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International Year of Plant Health: Experts join forces to protect world forests from invasive pests and pathogens

Pathologists and entomologists unite knowledge and expertise over the common goal to battle unprecedented biotic threats posed by biological invasions and improve the long-term health of forests. Researchers from the EU project HOMED aim to prevent or reduce the profound impacts on forests of both alien and emerging native pests and pathogens.

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The United Nations General Assembly declared the year 2020 as the International Year of Plant Health (IYPH). HOMED researchers in the field of pathology and entomology take this opportunity to affirm the need to improve the protection of forests, which is essential for climate regulation, wood production, biodiversity reservoir and, ultimately, for human well-being. HOMED (HOlistic Management of Emerging forest pests and Diseases) uses a scientific, technological and risk management approach for the prevention, detection, diagnosis, eradication and control of emerging native and non-native pests and pathogens threatening forest health. The world’s forests have never been more threatened by invasions of exotic pests and pathogens, the causes and impacts of which are reinforced by global change. However, forest entomologists and pathologists have, for too long, worked independently, using different concepts and proposing specific management methods without recognising parallels and synergies between their respective fields. HOMED researchers advocate increased collaboration between pathology and entomology in order to improve the long-term health of forests. “In a year characterised by a global threat to human health from the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, attention to plant health could be considered derisory,” project coordinator Hervé Jactel (French National Institute for Agriculture, Food, and Environment - INRAE) comments. “However, plants face similar threats and trees and forests, in particular, play an essential role in providing humans with important services, so tree health is directly connected to human well-being.” HOMED, therefore, recommends to foster the convergence between scientific communities, proposing in particular the development of interdisciplinary research programmes, the development of generic tools or methods for pest and pathogen management and capacity building for the education and training of students, managers, decision-makers and citizens concerned with forest health. Project researchers suggest innovative approaches in research policy, research implementation and development as well as capacity building. Find their recommendations below: 1. Research policy • An interdisciplinary approach including entomology and plant pathology, but also economics and social sciences, should be encouraged in all research projects dealing with the adaptation of forests to global change and, in particular, with the risks to forest health. • Specific research topics involving interactions between forest insects and pathogens should be prioritised, such as insect-vectored diseases and physiological host tree responses to multiple biotic stresses. 2. Research implementation and development • Innovative tools should be designed together by plant pathologists and entomologists. • Science-based guidelines should be developed to provide new sustainable forest management alternatives aimed at reducing the vulnerability of stands to both pests and diseases. • Forest entomologists and forest pathologists should collaborate to improve biosecurity strategies, such as those targeting the movement of damaging organisms associated with live plants and wood products. 3. Capacity building • Forest entomologists and forest pathologists should work together to build multidisciplinary curricula to sensitise students to the need to consider forest risks in a holistic manner and to educate future managers in integrated forest protection. • Public plant health services could work with plant pathologists and entomologists to create early warning systems using citizen science to involve the public in tree health issues, including opportunities for learning and participation in scientific research, monitoring and surveillance. Read the opinion paper, published in NeoBiota: * * * Grant Agreement No 771271


forest pests, forest health, tree health, pathogens, invasive species