Ruth is a plant/soil research scientist at the James Hutton Institute with 20 years’ experience of working on a wide range of applied ecological research projects. Her research focuses the impact of pressures such as grazing, pollution, land management and plant diseases on above and below ground biodiversity. Over the last five years Ruth and her team have developed expertise in assessing the wider ecological impacts of declines in plant health (notably ash dieback and oak decline) on biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. In particular the team identify which other species only or primarily use the plant species impacted by the disease and if the plant species which may replace the diseased species provide suitable ecological niches for the same suite of biodiversity. Ultimately the aim has been to provide practical advice to mitigate, as far as possible, the adverse impacts of plant diseases on the wider environment.
This project will (i) review and collate the contemporary data and evidence on Phytophthora discovery, species description and traits; (ii) use the collated data to horizon-scan and predict disease threats in Scotland and (iii) model and map the greatest threats to plants in specific key habitats. The findings will be compiled into a report on the updated risks with recommendations for enhancing preparedness through risk-based prioritisation of hosts and habitats for targeted surveillance to promote earlier detection of Phytophthora species. Although the project will consider plants in agriculture, forestry, horticulture and natural ecosystems across Scotland, the principal focus will be on the risks to relatively under-studied plant hosts in the natural environment.
This project was selected for funding from the Project Call: “Enhancing preparedness against pests and diseases: plugging evidence gaps for Scotland”.
Image credit: Glensaugh ©The James Hutton Institute
Impact: This fellowship will generate an increased understanding of current and future plant health threats to the natural environment in Scotland and identify key knowledge gaps, and deliver practical steps and actions to minimise risks and negative and provide evidence-based advice to inform future policies to help safeguard this sector.
Compared to threats such as climate change and habitat fragmentation, plant health issues are poorly represented in international and national biodiversity strategies such as the Aichi Targets of the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation, and the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy. Work is thus required to provide strategic guidance on the inclusion of plant health threats into the next iteration of the biodiversity strategies.
Impact: Direct guidance and input for plant health issues into the new Scottish Biodiversity Strategy; best-practice example of plant health integration into national biodiversity planning (model for other countries).
The Natural Environment sector underpins Scotland’s landscapes, biodiversity, rural industries and recreational activities, but plant health awareness is less well developed than in the forestry, horticulture and agriculture sectors. The PHC funded a fellowship with NatureScot, to address this gap.