“Why Biodiversity is Crucial for Tree Conservation”
Forests are under intense environmental strain due to rising global temperatures, drought conditions and insect infestations in trees at risk – with older ones particularly. However, it can be challenging to determine exactly what’s causing forest die-offs worldwide due to insufficient data; nonetheless, there may be several potential culprits.
Insects place trees at risk
Every part of a tree-roots, bark, leaves, flowers, and seeds can be attacked by insects and harmful fungi. Some insects such as non-native Emerald Ash Borers (EABs) and Gypsy Moths spread devastating diseases. While aphids, in particular those which feed off honeydew produced by trees smothered with pollen can stunt or perish trees with their honeydew-rich honeydew production. That provides a host for sooty mold fungus to germinate and flourish indefinitely. Insects and fungi make up the bulk of biotic factors that threaten trees. Chewing insects such as Japanese beetles, aphids and gypsy moths chew parts of trunks, branches and leaves (i.e. Japanese beetles, aphids and gypsy moths).
While sucking insects suck out juice from portions of trunks, branches, and leaves (such as beetles, tent caterpillars or pear psylla).Invasive insects and disease organisms have the ability to quickly spread worldwide due to human transportation and air travel.
Quickly creating severe damage among related trees placing them at risk in their new surrounding. Endangering biodiversity and the economic value of forests in their wake. Attributed to insects in the US is some of the highest tree mortality. Such as wood-boring beetles that perish conifers and broadleaves alike. When outbreaks happen, beetles dig tunnels under bark and disrupt nutrients to roots resulting in root rot and ultimately a perished tree.
Fungus can also contribute to a perished tree through insects.
Fungi often thrive in holes left by wood-boring beetles and wind and hail storms, or within wounds from fire scarring and broken limbs. With heartrot being especially aggressive during drought stress conditions. Establishing the relative contributions of climate and insect stress is integral in disentangling causalities from correlations in tree mortality models. While drought is associated with mortality. Disentangling when and how insect stress interactions with particular climate events contribute to overall mortality may not be so straightforward. Field plots and forest inventory networks apparently provide inconclusive data in this regard and how trees are at risk.
Trees can become vulnerable to both insects and drought. An extended period of hot and dry weather can cause their vascular system to disintegrate, leading to deterioration from within. Trees rely on their xylem, a network of channels in their stems and roots that transports water and nutrients through. As do all vascular plants, for water transport and nutrition delivery. When drought conditions reduce these processes significantly.
Air bubbles may enter into the xylem causing embolisms that block off certain sections of its pathway. When enough xylem channels have become blocked it’s often too late for recovery to take place. Drought can have devastating consequences for all types of trees at risk in urban environments. Particularly those growing along waterways. Prolonged drought can increase mortality rates significantly.
Thankfully, many cities have implemented water restrictions during droughts in order to safeguard the health of their trees.
Some species respond to cooler temperatures by experiencing growth flushes that result in rapid branch growth. However, drought conditions can reduce this number and ultimately result in fewer branches overall. Oak trees and other plants that elongate slowly over several months in response to warmer temperatures are more vulnerable to drought conditions. In Oregon and Washington alone, during the “Firmageddon” perish of 2022 which affected over one million acres of fir trees. Many perished due to biotic factors rather than pests or deterioration.
Researchers conducted an examination of climate variables found within forest ecosystems and discovered a strong positive relationship between them and tree mortality events.
Z-score values for each variable were calculated for both years prior to and after mortality started. With points representing mean values while whiskers represented 95% confidence intervals; woodland/shrubland, temperate grassland/desert, tropical seasonal forest/savanna, and boreal forest areas.All showing strong signatures of hotter drought.Long-term drought can impede trees’ ability to absorb and transport moisture. Making them vulnerable to attacks from insects and fungi that thrive under such stressful conditions. Such pests include Dutch Elm Disease, American Spruce Beetle, and Hemlock Woolly Adelgid. Which attack weak or dying trees.
As crucial natural carbon sinks, trees are at great risk from climate problems. Climate compounded traditional stressors like pests, drought, and forest fires to make forest loss even more likely. Making harnessing their full potential more challenging by altering how effectively trees capture and store carbon. Vital for lowering greenhouse gas emissions. Rising temperatures pose three major threats to tree survival: they increase atmospheric drought, intensify soil drought, and directly impact leaf water-use efficiency via heat stress.
Furthermore, climate stresses such as high vapor pressure deficit (VPD; an indicator of atmospheric drought) during warmer years can worsen chronic soil drought by preventing stomata from closing during dry spells and leading to frequent periods when they don’t open for air exchange.
Factors that threaten tree health and survival.Recent die-offs have demonstrated the devastating consequences of such timing and intensity issues on tree health. Climate anomalies can trigger tree mortality events. But without greater knowledge of individual forests and how species adapt to changing conditions. Extrapolating global trends may remain close to impossible. Beech leaf deterioration has already perished millions of healthy beech trees.
Phytophtora ramorum, commonly referred to as sudden oak perish, is another example of exotic tree problems’ increasing impact.
First discovered in California’s coastal forests in 2010. This threatens an array of native trees such as tanoak, coast live oak, and quaking aspen. Eventually leading to their inevitable end through being choked out with spores that leave open wounds with fragile structures that are easily broken off.
Aging make trees at risk
Perishing trees pose a substantial threat to nearby homes, cars, and people. Compromised branches that fall could potentially put people at high risk. While rotting branches could pose threats to buildings and power lines. There are various signs that you should watch for in order to identify a dying tree. Signs that a tree may be at risk include the presence of fungus on or near its trunk. Such as bark peeling off or growth from beneath its base. When this occurs, it indicates the trunk is decaying away.
Providing food sources for these fungi to flourish inside.
Cracks or breaks in a tree’s trunk or branches may signal its imminent demise. Making it more vulnerable to weathering, insect attacks, and deterioration. Not to mention weakening its structure enough that collapse or fall may follow soon thereafter. One of the key signs that a tree is at risk of perishing is when it leans. Leaning trees are more prone to breaking apart in high winds. Creating potential risks to nearby people and structures.
Global forests play a pivotal role in Earth’s ecosystems. Providing essential habitat for biodiversity while providing structural and economic support to society. Furthermore, forests store up to one-third of anthropogenic carbon emissions. While forests globally may adapt to ongoing climate change through physiological responses and adaptation mechanisms. Their adaptive potential in large old-growth forest species remains limited.
For more info on this subject check out this video here
Provided by Antonio Westley
Disclaimer: This article is meant to be seen as an overview of this subject and not a reflection of viewpoints or opinions as nothing is definitive. So, make sure to do your research and feel free to use this information at your own discretion. For educational purposes only.