Use this URL to cite or link to this record in EThOS:
Title: Ecological impacts of ash dieback in Great Britain
Author: Hill, Louise
ISNI:       0000 0004 6501 0453
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2017
Availability of Full Text:
Access from EThOS:
Full text unavailable from EThOS. Restricted access.
Access from Institution:
Ash dieback is a severe disease of ash trees (Fraxinus spp.), caused by the invasive fungus Hymenoscyphus fraxineus. In its native East Asia, H. fraxineus is a harmless endophyte, but since its accidental import into Europe in the early 1990s it has infected over 90% of ash trees in some areas, with long-term mortality sometimes exceeding 90%. The disease was discovered in Great Britain in 2012, and has since spread rapidly. This thesis investigates some of the possible impacts on biodiversity, ecosystem functioning, and society, and in doing so identifies ways to alleviate some impacts. Britain has only 13% tree cover (among the lowest in Europe), so may be particularly vulnerable to ash loss. Better understanding of the effects and how to minimise them is critical to deliver an evidence-based response. First, we investigated impacts in woodlands by experimentally killing woodland ash trees by ring-barking. We found no short-term effect of ash loss on ground flora or earthworm communities, or on the regeneration or growth of other woody species. Observational evidence suggested that remaining canopy trees rapidly filled gaps left by ash, perhaps contributing to stability. Our woodlands appeared to be remarkably resilient to ash loss, although there may be long-term effects or impacts on other species that this experiment failed to observe. To investigate broader-scale impacts, we required high-quality abundance maps for ash and other trees across Britain. Using species distribution modelling and random forest regression, we developed a protocol to produce abundance maps from readily available data. We tested the predictive power of the resulting maps using cross validation. Our maps are the best available for abundance of British tree species, and will be useful across a wide range of disciplines. We then used them to model ecosystem vulnerability to ash loss, based on the abundance of ash and other tree species, and their ecological trait similarity. We identified areas at risk of the largest impacts, and produced guidance for positive management actions to minimise ecological change. Lastly, we investigated the financial impacts of ash dieback, estimating the total cost to Britain at £9.2 billion. This figure is many times larger than the value of lost trade if biosecurity were improved to prevent future invasions, questioning the validity of financial arguments against biosecurity. We also found that loss of ecosystem services accounted for less than a third of the total cost, suggesting that ecosystem service assessments may miss a large proportion of the true cost of biodiversity loss. Overall, we found that some impacts may be less than expected, such as local effects on woodland ground flora, and others, such as the economic cost, may be much larger than expected. However, the resilience of ecosystems to a major shock such as loss of a common species, and actions to mitigate the impacts, depend on having a diversity of other trees present. The ash dieback outbreak highlights the importance of preventing other severe pests and diseases of trees from being introduced; something that has been increasing exponentially, largely due to international trade in trees. This thesis provides further firm evidence that there is an ecological and social imperative to halt this trend.
Supervisor: Brown, Nick ; Hector, Andrew ; Hemery, Gabriel Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Ecology ; Ecosystem services ; Functional ecology ; Abundance distributions ; Environmental economics ; Species loss ; Traits ; Ash dieback ; Policy ; Forest ecology ; Ecosystem mapping