The FUTURE OAK project, comprising scientists at Bangor University, Aberystwyth University, Forest Research and Sylva Foundation, will study how oak microbiomes are affected by environmental change and disease.
The UK is home to around 170 million oak trees, and more ancient oak trees than the rest of Europe combined. Native oak support over 2000 species of insects, birds, mammals, and fungi, but climate change, human activity, and outbreaks of tree disease are affecting the health of our forests. Acute Oak Decline (or AOD) poses a significant threat to our native oak trees. Trees with AOD are weakened by environmental stresses, like drought, and several different bacteria cause the inner bark tissue to rot. Bark-boring beetles also feed on the inner bark of weakened trees, further increasing bacterial activity. Eventually, the outer bark cracks, releasing fluid from the rotting inner tissue and causing the distinctive stem ‘bleeds’ that are observed on trees affected by AOD.
Prof. James McDonald, the project leader explained: “The FUTURE OAK project will analyse hundreds of native oaks across Britain to understand which microbes promote health and fight diseases. We’ll then test the ability of these microbes to suppress bacteria which cause disease. This will help us to develop biocontrol treatments for the oak microbiome, to promote healthier trees and suppress the symptoms of AOD. Working with forest managers, we’ll seek to understand how microbiomes fit with established understandings of tree health, and how our research can help.”