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Understanding the relationships between deathwatch beetle, wood decay fungi and timber ageing in European historic buildings in order to develop alternatives to current harmful and ineffective treatments


To evaluate the environmental and ecological factors controlling timber decay in historic buildings, with a view to elucidating environmentally sensitive control procedures.

Initial work will be focused on the biochemical and physiological factors controlling the activity of the death watch beetle (Xestobium rufovillosum) in its natural environment. Particular attention will be paid to their interrelationship existing between death watch beetle and the oak rot fungus, Donkioporia expansa, as well as to the search for active constituents controlling pathogenicity in timber decaying fungi. It is hoped then to develop more effective and less harmful techniques for the control, trapping and behaviourial modification of death watch beetle and other factors causing timber decay.

Physical parameters of the timber will be monitored such as humidity, pH, temperature, nitrogen content and density, as well as the production by the timber of specific volatile compounds. Complimentary detailed studies of the behaviour of death watch beetle (Xestobium rufovillosum) will be achieved by a series of tracking experiments using specially designed luminous dust. This will then enable a greater understanding to be gained of the physical and biochemical factors influencing the infestation of historic timber.

Although the association of death watch beetle (Xestobium rufovillosum) attack with fungally decayed wood has been widely reported, little work has been done to elucidate the nature of this relationship and to correlate it to the rate of development and mode of behaviour of death watch beetle in situ.

Recent work has suggested that in historic buildings, significant migration of recently emerged death watch beetle occurs to the fruiting bodies of Donkioporia expansa fruiting body and from the timber. The project will also produce understanding of the chemistry, biochemistry and chemo-ecology of specific fungi responsible for the decay and colonization of timber, especially after fire damage (Coprinus sp). This will be with a view to elucidating vulnerable points in the timber/fungi relationship that can be exploited for biocontrol. Analysis of the active constituents of Coprinus species will enable an insight to be gained into decaying causing processes of these fungi with a view to the development of less toxic treatment procedures.

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English Heritage
EU contribution
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429 Oxford Street
W1R 2HD London
United Kingdom

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Participants (3)