Forest pathology is the research of both biotic and abiotic maladies affecting the health of a forest ecosystem, primarily fungal pathogens and their insect vectors. It is a subfield of forestry and plant pathology.
There are a number of abiotic factors which affect the health of a forest, such as moisture issues like drought, winter-drying, waterlogging resulting from over-abundance or lack of precipitation such as hail, snow, rain.
Wind is also an important abiotic factor as windthrow (the uprooting or breaking of trees due to high winds) causes an obvious and direct loss of stability to a forest or its trees.
Often, abiotic factors and biotic factors will affect a forest at the same time. For example, if wind speed is 80 km per hour then many trees which have root rot (caused by a pathogen) are likely to be thrown. Higher wind speeds are necessary to damage healthier trees.
The effects of man often alter a forest's predisposition to damage from both abiotic and biotic effects. For example, soil properties may be altered by heavy machinery.
- Other abiotic factors
There is a category listing fungal tree pathogens and diseases in Wikipedia.
There is a category listing insect pests of temperate forests in Wikipedia.
Some of these factors act in concert (all do to a degree). For example, Amylostereum areolatum is spread by the Sirex woodwasp. The fungus gains access to new trees to live off, and the woodwasp larvae gain food.
Parasitic flowering plants
Many plants can parasitize trees via root to root contact. Many of these parasitic plants originate in the tropical and subtropical climates.
Part of forest pathology is forest entomology. Forest entomology includes the study of all insects and arthropods, such as mites, centipedes and millipedes, which live in and interact in forest ecosystems. Forest entomology also includes the management of insect pests that cause the degrading, defoliation, crown die-back or death of trees.
Thus the scope is wide and includes:
- Documentation of all insect species and related arthropoda in natural and man-made forests, and the study and ecology of those species.
- Description and assessment of damage to tree structures (parts of a tree), to forest stands, landscape effects and to wood products, timber in service and other ecosystem services.
- Eradication of recently introduced pests, or long-term management of established exotics and indigenous pests, to minimise losses in wood quality and wood production, and to reduce tree mortality.
- Assessments of forest operations, or of management impacts, on the invertebrate fauna, and the alleviation of any adverse effects on these invertebrates.
The likelihood of property damage or personal injury due to tree failure. Hazard includes not only the tree's condition, but the potential target as well. Rating systems, procedures and guidelines have been developed for decision making but knowledge, judgement, and experience are an important part to the process.
Pathogens that affect trees
There is a category listing tree diseases in Wikipedia.
- Armillaria sp which causes white rot root disease
- Hymenoscyphus fraxineus which causes Ash Dieback
- Heterobasidion annosum which causes Annosum or red root rot, the economically most significant pathogen in the Northern hemisphere.
- Chestnut blight
- Rickettsia which causes possibly this citrus greening disease
- Dutch elm disease
- Ink disease
- Emerald ash borer
- Olive tree pathology
- Witch's broom
- White Pine Blister Rust
- Phytophthora cinnamomi which causes root rot
- Phytophthora ramorum which causes sudden oak death
- Polypore or bracket fungus
- Tinder conk
Signs and symptoms
Symptoms are a result of a pathogen:
- Drunken trees
- Forest dieback
- Leaf scorch
- Root rot
- Wilt disease
Signs are the visible presence of a part of a pathogen:
This can be done by machines or by dogs smelling the trees, similar to the methods used to find truffles. It can also be done by monitoring and identification can happen via tree clinics, experts such as arborists or even non-experts through citizen science.