Researchers at Murdoch University are warning that thousands of beautiful Marri trees throughout the South West, including the wineries region, are dying or are already dead from a devastating form of tree cancer, known as Marri canker.
Professor Giles Hardy and Dr George Matusick from the Centre of Excellence for Climate Change Woodland and Forest Health have also identified that large areas of the Northern Jarrah forest from the Perth Hills to Collie have suddenly collapsed and died from drought. Wandoo, Tuart and WA Peppermint have also shown severe recent declines, with some of the dead trees estimated to be at least 150 to 200 years old.
They will reveal more about the extent of the tree crises, the causes and proposals to reduce and manage the declines at the Managing for Healthy Forests Symposium on Friday, October 21, in Henley Brook.
The Marri canker epidemic is severely impacting more than 80 per cent of all Marri trees along Caves Road, the Bussell Highway and the adjoining roads in an area heavily reliant on tourism.
“Marri is an iconic tree species in Western Australia but this cancer is destroying them and therefore the character and beauty of our famous Margaret River wine region is suffering,” said Professor Hardy, director of the Murdoch University-based centre.
“Currently the Marri canker is not completely understood and there are no known solutions. We are running out of time to find them.
“The deaths are impacting on flora and fauna biodiversity in the region. For example, the Carnaby’s Black Cockatoo rely on the Marri’s large fruit, known as honky nuts, for food.
“Collapsing trees with falling branches pose a significant hazard for pedestrians and drivers. It is very costly to remove these dead trees and repair the damage they do to fences and powerlines. But the cost to the tourism industry in the region could be even more devastating.”
Professor Hardy and Dr Matusick hope to obtain funds from the Australian Research Council (ARC) to research the cancer and other threatened trees.
Throughout this year, they have also been surveying large areas of the Northern Jarrah forest from the ground and the air to find that 17,000 hectares of eco-system have suddenly collapsed. As we move into summer, other endangered areas could also succumb, they warn.
“The collapse follows one of the hottest and driest summers on record and years of climate change,” said Dr Matusick. “All the climate change models point to an even drier and hotter climate for south west WA so it’s vitally important that we do something now to protect what is an iconic and vitally important habitat for native species of flora and fauna.
“These trees are the lungs of the south west. They provide us with our clean, fresh air, they provide habitat for our flora and fauna and Western Australians have a huge emotional tie to their native forests.
“We have modified these forests significantly since European settlement and they are no longer like they were prior to our arrival. In order to ensure these forests continue to provide these functions and services, we must look at new ways of managing them in a drying and warming climate.”
A number of scientists from Murdoch University, University of Western Australia, the Department of Environment and Conservation, the Water Corporation, University of Tasmania and the University of British Columbia will be at the symposium on Friday presenting on topics including recreationists’ perceptions of forest health and community involvement in trying to rehabilitate the Tuart Forest.
Event organiser Cielito Marbus said anyone with an interest in forest health and management should attend the symposium, which will be held at the Valley View Restaurant and Reception Centre in Henley Brook.
“It is clear that the action we take now will affect the health of our precious forests for many generations. So it is important that the scientific community, policy-makers and wider society exchange knowledge in an open forum,” she said.
“To plan for the future we have to understand better what is happening to our forests and that will take time, money and collaboration. Hopefully the symposium will be the catalyst for the start of many important partnerships.”
Delegates can register for the symposium on the dedicated website. Registration costs $100 per person with discounts for students and community groups.