James Hutton News


14th March 2016

Two new projects featuring James Hutton Institute scientists in Aberdeen and Dundee have received a share of £2m for research to help combat threats to trees and plants, as part of the Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Initiative (THAPBI). This multi-disciplinary initiative brings together biological, environmental, and social scientists to support the future health and resilience of the UK’s forests and woodland in the face of increasing pressures.

Several new tree pests and pathogens have emerged to threaten UK trees in recent years, with plant imports and climate change often implicated in their spread. Research that will conserve trees, woodlands and forests has the potential to be greatly beneficial to both society and the economy, as the social value of UK trees has been estimated at around £1.8bn per year.

Of the two projects funded under phase three of THAPBI, one focuses on forecasting pests and pathogens that affect oak trees, the other on minimising the threat from destructive Phytophthora pathogens and their spread in trade.  Across all phases, the projects funded will increase our knowledge and understanding of pests, pathogens and trees in the hope of developing best practice guidelines for commercial and environmental sectors.

Professor Melanie Welham, BBSRC Chief Executive, said: “Understanding threats to trees and habitats could make a huge difference to the UK’s social and economic landscape in the face of emerging risks from pests and pathogens. Research funded under this initiative has the potential to be transferred to other tree pests or diseases, to help keep our forests and crops safe.”

The first project, “Global threats from Phytophthora spp,: understanding drivers of emergence and opportunities for mitigation through nursery best practice,” is led by Forest Research.  The research aims to tackle the spread of Phytophthora diseases in trade across the UK. It includes a significant element of work with nurseries and retail production systems, with support from a Hutton research team including plant pathologist Dr David Cooke and computational biologist Dr Leighton Pritchard.

The second initiative, \"PuRpOsE - Protect Oak Ecosystems: understanding and forecasting causes and consequences, management for future climates,\" is fronted by the University of Reading. As part of the project, a Hutton team led by plant-soil ecologist Dr Ruth Mitchell will look into the impact of oak decline on biodiversity and ecosystem functions and services, as well as mitigation options, following on a similar project in which her team evaluated the ecological impact of the potential disappearance of ash trees in the UK.

Professor Colin Campbell, Chief Executive of the James Hutton Institute, commented: \"We’re very pleased to be undertaking these studies which are so important to the future of these highly valued species and habitats. The successful projects demonstrate how our breadth and depth in pathogen genetics, computational analysis and habitat ecology are needed in combination to take a systems approach to solving these difficult problems.

“The expertise in Phytophthora is based on many years of study funded by the Scottish Government and the Phytophthora germplasm collections we hold will help to understand the threats from this particular group in a unique way.”

THAPBI is funded under the auspices of the Living With Environmental Change Partnership with support from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Economic and Social Research Council, Forestry Commission, Natural Environment Research Council and the Scottish Government. 

James Hutton Institute

The James Hutton Institute is a world-leading scientific organisation encompassing a distinctive range of integrated strengths in land, crop, waters, environmental and socio-economic science. It undertakes research for customers including the Scottish and UK Governments, the EU and other organisations worldwide. The institute has a staff of around 600 and 150 PhD students.

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