Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Tree decline research needs better coordination and more money


Most species of the south west’s iconic gum trees are in serious decline:

•the tuart around Lake Clifton suffered major decline and death over two successive summers
•flooded gums along most watercourses are defoliated every year by a range of native insects, with many trees not recovering and dying – see photo below
•wandoo is now recognised as declining throughout much of its range
•jarrah has suffered from more than 10 years of leaf miner attack throughout most forest areas and it continues to be affected by the dieback fungus Phythophthora cinnamomi.
•concerns have been expressed about the health of salmon gums, york gums and powderbark wandoo in the wheatbelt
•although not a gum tree, a decline of urban banksia trees is occurring
•in the eastern states, the federal government is funding research into the loss of large numbers of river red gums.

The Busselton Naturalists Club, the state’s largest rural-based conservation group, believes that the situation facing these iconic tree species is so severe that coordination of research into the fate of these tree species must come under the control of one coordinating body.

Club president Bernie Masters is concerned that too many people are conducting research into tree decline without linking their efforts together into one coordinated response.

“At present, we have a tuart response group, four dieback groups and a wandoo recovery group, plus community-based groups lobbying government to fund research problems affecting several wheatbelt species,” Mr Masters said.

“Research undertaken in Portugal strongly suggests drought as the primary cause of increased insect attack against tuarts, but the obvious solution of thinning or artificial watering seems not to be a high priority for evaluation by WA researchers.”

“An equally serious problem is that some serious tree decline problems are not being researched.”

“The flooded gum is dying in large numbers along privately-owned watercourses and wetlands throughout the southwest, but no one seems to be concerned.”

“There is an urgent need to bring all tree researchers together under one roof so that they can undertake two crucial tasks:
•set priorities on which tree species need urgent research investigation; and
•coordinate their research efforts so that information is shared and unnecessary duplication is eliminated.”

“While I acknowledge the good research work done by the Department of CALM over recent years, I don’t believe that a government agency is the best group to coordinate the work that needs to be undertaken to understand these tree decline problems.”

“A centre for rural tree research should be set up within one of the state’s universities, in partnership with CALM and possibly the CSIRO.”

“Administration costs of such a centre would be modest, and state and federal governments should urgently provide additional funding to allow all tree species in decline to be fully researched.”

“Funding of $750,000 per year for at least 5 years will allow research to be started on the flooded gum, salmon gum, york gum, powderbark wandoo and urban banksias.”

“In a drying climate, with well known threats posed by fungus, insect attack and salt, we run the risk that large areas of the south west will lose their iconic gum trees over the next 20 years.”

“A further risk to some tree species is high nutrient levels which change the soil chemistry beneath trees so that fungi and other plants and animals living in partnership with the trees can no longer survive.”

“Funding increases for research and the establishment of a coordination body within one of the state’s universities are urgent priorities for state government action.”

Bernie Masters
Hon President

For independent advice in support of this media release, please contact:
Professor Hans Lambers
Head of School of Plant Biology, Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences
University of Western Australia
Phone 6488 7381 (direct) 1782 (secretariat); Fax 6488 1108

PHOTO OPPORTUNITY: Several dozen flooded gums are dead or dying on land to the south of the Busselton light industrial area off the Busselton bypass.

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