By Chrissy Sexton
Professor Matthew Evans from the University of Hong Kong created a computer model to estimate how ash dieback disease may affect the UK’s 125 million ash trees.
Human-induced changes to the environment are increasing the rate at which pests and diseases are introduced, which is severely threatening to native species. Long-lived species that reproduce slowly, such as forest trees, are particularly susceptible to new pathogens.
It is estimated that in 2015, 100 million hectares of forest were affected by pests and diseases around the globe. However, the subsequent impacts to any given forest ecosystem cannot be detected for years, so experts use computer models to predict future outcomes.
In a recent study, Professor Matthew Evans from the University of Hong Kong created a computer model to estimate how ash dieback (ADB) disease may affect the UK’s 125 million ash trees.
ADB disease, which is caused by a fungus native to East Asia, was introduced to the UK seven years ago. This incurable infection leaves diamond-shaped scars on the bark and causes the leaves to fall off of the trees.
About one in every 100 ash trees is able to resist the fungus and avoid infection. This is likely due to a genetic advantage which allows the trees to shed their leaves earlier to prevent the fungus from establishing itself.
Professor Evans found that at the current level of resistance, 95 percent of the UK’s ash trees could be wiped out by the end of the century. He determined that breeding more ash trees with resistance will prevent millions of deaths.