Research Matters: Focus on forest health

Posted on August 22, 2016

Our economies and our ecosystems rely heavily on trees. This means that the health of our planet depends on the health of our forests. Yet now, more than ever before, many trees are sick and dying because of pests and the diseases they cause, and worryingly, plantation forests are even more at risk than natural forests. In fact, 110 million ha of plantation forests globally are currently under threat as a result of invasive pests such as the Sirex woodwasp (Sirex noctilo), which targets pine trees specifically.

Researchers at the Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute (FABI) at the University of Pretoria study tree health from every possible angle to support forest pest management both locally and internationally. When it comes to the Sirex woodwasp, the team at FABI wants to understand every aspect of the pest so that they can fine-tune control strategies.

Researchers from FABI have known for some time that microscopic worms called nematodes can be used against Sirex in an approach known as biocontrol, where the nematodes infect wasp larvae, the females of which ultimately become sterile. A fungus that lives in symbiosis with the wasp plays a key role in this biocontrol approach, since the nematodes must feed and breed on this fungus in one phase of their lives in order to infect the wasp larvae in another.

Visit our brand new Research Matters website to find out more about how researchers at the University of Pretoria are making today matter through projects that support pest management in our forests and plantations. 


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