Sometimes it seems as if the forests of the eastern U.S. are losing the battle with invasive insects and pathogens – emerald ash borer, hemlock woolly adelgid, Asian longhorned beetles, spongy moth, chestnut blight, sudden oak death, thousand cankers disease, laurel wilt – the list goes on and on.
Scientists and land managers continue to monitor these threats and develop control and treatment methods, but in the long run the survival of important eastern forest tree species may depend on improving their genetic ability to resist the onslaught of nonnative insects and diseases.
In Lexington, Kentucky, the U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station (SRS), the University of Kentucky (UK) Department of Forestry, and the Kentucky Division of Forestry (KDF) came together to form the Forest Health Research and Education Center (FHC), a research and education hub with the mission of advancing the conservation of forested ecosystems by integrating genetics-based biological research, social science, and education on factors affecting tree health and forest restoration.
SRS research geneticist and project leader Dana Nelson serves as co-director of FHC, which is based at the University of Kentucky, and is made up of three collaborative teams that work together to address forest threats and improve sustainability:
- Biological Sciences uses genetics to better understand tree resistance to insects and diseases and develop new genetic tools for improving resistance;
- Social Sciences investigates the economic and cultural impacts of forest threats; and
- Education and Outreach promotes understanding of forest health threats, with a particular focus on the genetics of resistance, and the use of genetic-based tools to more rapidly respond to present and future forest threats.
“FHC is focuses on solving — both in the lab and on the ground — our most pressing ecologic and economic forest health challenges,” said Nelson. “We’re a virtual center, with access to UK laboratories and KDF tree nurseries, and collaborations across the region.”
For more information, email Dana Nelson at firstname.lastname@example.org