Plant pests pose a growing threat to forests and other wooded land. Plant trade is increasingly global, heightening the risk of inadvertently introducing exotic organisms. At the same time, climate change is shifting biotic disturbance patterns as it often affects pathogens and their hosts in different ways. In the last decades, the EU has confronted several large-scale outbreaks of new tree pests that can affect forests, and other tree-dominated landscapes, throughout the EU territory. We seek insights into these epidemics to inform the actions to control or mitigate them.
With partners, we have researched process-based pest spread models, that simulate a tree pest epidemic based on the characteristics and behaviour of the pathogen, its hosts, and its vectors (e.g. de la Fuente et al. 2018). However, when new pests are first found, very little is typically known about their ecology. Even basic facts, such as the complete list of potential host plant and vectors, let alone their precise role in the pest spread, usually takes considerable time to compile. As a result, traditional pest spread models can often not be reliably developed for quarantine pests. Therefore, we also investigate new analytical approaches that can shed light on plant pest dynamics, even when epidemiological parameter are highly uncertain (e.g. Strona et al. 2017, 2018).
We use remote sensing to monitor tree health, particularly in the context of plant pests. The early detection of new infections is key to containing epidemics. Therefore, we research how the early stages of plant stress, that might be caused by plant pathogens, can be spotted in Earth Observation data, be it from satellite or the air (e.g. Zarco-Tejada et al. 2018a, 2018b, 2021). We also work to integrate remote sensing into spatial epidemiological models to better map and track the spread of plant pest epidemics (Camino et al. 2021). For plant pests that are affecting large areas, we additionally research machine learning methods to map the extent and progression of the damage they cause. While satellite-based Earth Observation are abundant enough to make this possible, training and reference data for Earth-Observation-based methods are still hard to combine. To address this, the JRC has launched DEFID2:
The JRC has launched a collaborative initiative to create a spatio-temporal database of the damages they have caused to European forests since 1981.
We invite researchers, forest services, and forest owners from across Europe engaged in mapping such forest disturbances to contribute their observations to this new Database of European Forest Insect & Disease Disturbances (DEFID2), which will be harmonized and curated by the JRC.
DEFID2 will be open-access and improve our capacity to observe, understand, and predict biotic forest disturbances and quantify their impact on forest ecosystems. Results of the data collection will be published in a high-profile scientific journal and coauthorship will be offered to all data providers. You can find more details, including the protocol for the data collection, here.