Ash tree leaves. Photo: Marta Wave / Pexels

Background

The health of UK ash trees (Fraxinus excelsior) is under threat from ash dieback (ADB), a disease caused by the fungus Hymenoscyphus fraxineus which has had devastating effects on European Ash trees in the UK and across Europe. This has resulted in enormous social, economic and ecological impacts, causing an estimated loss of £15 billion to the UK economy. Loss of ash from the landscape has wide ranging ecological impacts, including direct effects to the many species it supports.

In addition to this, ash trees in the UK are threatened by a potential invasion of the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB), Agrilus planipennis, considered one of the most dangerous invasive pests. While EAB is not yet present in the UK it is moving west from Russia posing a threat to the UK and other parts of Europe.

SMARTIES considers the outcomes of epidemic models which are influenced by the actions of individual land-managers with a diverse range of goals, behaviours and values, and who interact to shape opinion through a range of local and national networks. It will provide practical recommendations that will improve the management of UK treescapes.

The SMARTIES methodology

SMARTIES is investigating how individuals and stakeholder groups can influence the successful detection and management of multiple risks to tree health focusing on ash trees.

With forests, hedgerows and other amenity trees (collectively treescapes), it is not always possible to prevent pests and diseases arriving, therefore, early detection and successful management are key areas where science can deliver. Management guidance is often pest or disease specific but management decisions are often made regarding host tree species that may face multiple threats.

The project’s novel value is how it will investigate the system, the interaction between multiple threats and the impact of land managers on the management of the system. It focuses on the link between the epidemiology of the system and the role of land managers and stakeholder groups in detecting threats and managing tree health. Management plans for invasive species are often coordinated centrally, but in practice early detection can be improved by local engagement with landowners, land managers, or site visitors. The project considers how planning accounts for their needs and encourages collaboration.

Emerald Ash Borer Damage

Emerald Ash borer damage. Photo: deedster / pixabay

Aims and objectives

Aim: Our scientific aim is to elucidate the key epidemiological and behavioural factors that govern the invasion and spread of multiple threats to tree health and so determine what makes successful surveillance and management at a whole system level, rather than on a pest by pest basis.

To do this we shall adopt a multidisciplinary approach combining epidemiology with the behavioural dynamics underlying land-manager decisions on pest control. This will be achieved by the following interlinked objectives:

SMARTIES – Project Objectives. Figure: SMARTIES

Objective 1: Develop a spatially explicit model of the spread of ADB and EAB at UK scale suitable to assess large-scale surveillance and predict the effect of control measures. The model structure will be able to represent the distribution of the host and will capture the important epidemiological and landscape characteristics that affect EAB and ADB, and potential points of entry for EAB.

Objective 2: Carry out extensive social scientific exploration of stakeholder values, actions and acceptability of EAB management options in order to develop an agent-based model of the behaviour of landscape-managers. This model will be based on the data gathered in 2.1 of how landscape-managers’ attitudes and behaviours influence how they act in the face of the spread and establishment of multiple biotic threats (including diseases and insect pests).

Objective 3: Link the epidemiological model (Objective 1) to the model of stakeholder behaviour (Objective 2) to develop a socio-epidemic model and use this to elucidate the factors that make robust surveillance networks and sustainable strategies for the management of ash trees.

Partners

  • Rothamsted Research
  • University of Salford
  • Forest Research

Funding

This project is funded by the United Kingdom’s Research and Innovation (UKRI) Programme through the Natural Environment Research Council
– UKRI Project Reference: NE/T007729/1