Dieback-resistant ash trees "more vulnerable to insects"

Ash trees which can resist the lethal dieback fungus may be more vulnerable to attacks by insects, according to new UK research.

Image: Forestry Commission England
Image: Forestry Commission England

Scientists from the universities of Exeter and Warwick examined trees which are resistant to ash dieback and unexpectedly found they had very low levels of chemicals which defend against insects, suggesting that selecting trees for fungal resistance could put them at risk from insect attack.

The research, was part of a study involving several universities and Government institutes aiming to identify the genetic basis of ash dieback resistance, but the Exeter and Warwick scientists looked instead at differences in chemical composition between tolerant and susceptible ash trees.

University of Warwick Chair in Food Security Professor Murray Grant said: "Plants use a vast range of chemicals to defend against fungal attack, and the primary objective was to identify differences which could be used to screen young ash trees and choose the best ones for replanting. Our findings underline the need for further research to ensure that we select ash trees resilient to present and future threats."

Britain's ash trees are also thought likely to be threatened by the emerald ash borer beetle, which has already devastated vast tracts of ash in the USA and is currently spreading westwards across Europe.

Joint lead author Dr Christine Sambles of the University of Exeter added: "Our research highlights the danger of selecting trees for resilience to ash dieback at the expense of resistance to insects that threaten this iconic UK tree species."

However the research, published in the journal Nature, also found that genetic markers in British ash populations "suggest that reduced susceptibility to ash dieback may be more widespread in Great Britain than in Denmark".

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