A new study of woodlands across the UK reveals that, as Chalara ash dieback disease progresses, encouraging the growth of other broadleaved trees as alternatives to ash could protect the almost 1000 species of plants and animals which usually use ash trees for food and habitat.
The results will be presented at the joint conference in Lille, France, of the British Ecological Society (BES) and the Société Française d'Ecologie (SFE).
Chalara ash dieback is caused by infections with the Hymenoscyphus pseudoalbidus fungus, the sexual phase of the Chalara fraxinea organism. The disease has spread throughout Europe since the early 1990s, and was first recorded in the UK in 2012. The fungal infection is usually fatal for ash trees, and can have wider impacts on woodland habitats.
These can include effects on other species. In the UK alone, more than 950 different species use ash trees for food or habitat. Most of these ash-associated species are lichens, invertebrates and fungi, but they also include 28 species of mammal and 12 bird species.
Now, researchers are studying how best to conserve these ash-associated species in the face of declining ash populations. Working at 15 woodland sites across the UK, the team from the Forestry Commission's Forest Research agency and the James Hutton Institute investigated which tree species can be used as alternatives to ash, and identified the forest management strategies that would encourage these alternative tree species to grow.
According to Alice Broome from Forest Research: "We found that the majority of woodlands studied already contained the alternative host trees. In most cases, following standard forestry practices would ensure the availability of the alternative host trees and improve the chances of ash-associated biodiversity surviving if ash was lost."
The team also identified 45 species of wildlife which have obligatory associations with ash. If ash populations were to decline, then these species, which cannot use alternative types of tree, would also decline.
Simple management strategies could ensure the survival of the species that can adapt to using alternative trees, and Ms Broome added: "Our results suggest that by adapting management, it is possible to make broadleaved woodlands more resilient to ash-associated biodiversity loss. The changes to practice would involve well-known forest operations such as preventing browsing damage, thinning, and establishing trees by planting."
Alice Broome will present her new research and management recommendations at the joint BES/SFE conference today, Friday 12December 2014, in the Grand Palais, Lille.
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