Following reports of isolated tree deaths throughout Kosciuszko National Park in 2007-08, sub-alpine forests in the Australian Alps are now in widespread decline. A team of environmental scientists from the Australian National University are working to learn more about this devastating problem and how to stop it and they need your help.
Snow gums are a key feature of the Australian Alps. In addition to their ecological importance, they’re of high cultural significance for Indigenous custodians and central to modern conceptions and imagery of wilderness. However, snow-gum forests are facing serious long-term challenges. Fire has repeatedly scorched much of our snow-gum forests during the last 20 years. Another threat, though, is quietly consuming our highest-elevation forests with a longer-term effect. Snow-gum dieback refers to declining health and eventual death of high-elevation snow gum as a consequence of infestation by wood-boring (longicorn) beetles. The larvae of these beetles mine the outer wood and inner bark, creating deep incisions that cut the flow of water and sugars and lead to tree death. Severe wood-borer outbreaks have killed entire stands of snow gum and, in some instances, whole mountainsides are now in severe decline.
Severe wood-borer outbreaks have killed entire stands of snow gum and, in some instances, whole mountainsides are now in severe decline.
The loss of woody overstorey across Australia’s sub-alpine forests would have far-reaching direct and cascading impacts upon all attendant invertebrate and vertebrate populations including threatened species. The niche left by the death of the overstorey would also increase the risk presented by invasive species and have significant hydrologic impacts with far reaching economic consequences.
Very little is known about snow-gum dieback. We are working to understand why outbreaks of wood-borers are occurring and what can be done to protect the remaining forests. Our research is combining detailed field surveys, insect monitoring and experimentation, high-resolution tree monitoring, tree-ring based reconstructions of local dieback outbreaks and plant stress, with high-resolution satellite imagery to understand causes and progress of dieback.
The large area and rugged and complex terrain affected by snow-gum dieback means we need the community’s help. Attack by wood-borers leaves unmistakable signs, evident as horizontal galleries, in affected trees. We are asking that everyone who travels to the Australian Alps in the coming summer to become a citizen scientist by reporting observations of dieback using a simple web-based portal that can be found at www.saveoursnowgum.org.
At 1pm on the 10th of December I will deliver a public online seminar on snow-gum dieback. The seminar will focus on recognition of dieback, our research, and the citizen-science program itself. More details about the seminar can be found at the ANU Fenner School’s public-seminar website.
Dr Matthew Brookhouse
Project leader SOSnowgum
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