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Researchers Help Prevent Tree Falls In Panama City

December 09, 2014

Researchers Help Prevent Tree Falls In Panama City

A towering tropical tree may look perfectly healthy on the outside but be in danger of collapse from fungal decay on the inside

A towering tropical tree may look perfectly healthy on the outside but be in danger of collapse from fungal decay on the inside. Fungal diseases are part of the natural cycle of birth and death in the forest. In a city prone to gusty storms, however, infected trees threaten people, vehicles, and structures. How can municipal authorities identify dangerous trees?

Sonic tomography can help. As an outreach component of the Fungal Dimensions research project, scientists including STRI research associate Greg Gilbert of the University of California, Santa Cruz, recently held a workshop at Panama’s Metropolitan Natural Park (PNM) on how to use tomography. That led to a collaborative effort to scan eight trees in the park.

Based on the scans, PNM director Dionora Víquez decided to remove four trees near roads and buildings that were at risk.

STRI scientists Javier Ballesteros, project coordinator, and Ernesto Bonadies, a project intern, followed-up by checking the tomograms against visible fungal damage in the tree stumps. They found infection and, in some cases, rot consistent with the tomograms.

Ballesteros, Bonadies, and project assistant César Barrios also scanned 50 trees around Panama City and will soon present the results and recommendations to the office of Mayor José Blandón.

The U.S. National Science Foundation-funded Fungal Dimensions project, a collaboration between Gilbert, STRI staff scientist Steven Hubbell and others, seeks to better understand the role fungal pathogens play in maintaining the high level of tree species biodiversity in tropical forests.

To learn more about Fungal Dimensions, follow this link to STRI videographer Ana Endara’s video about the project: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=02cGgqVM29M

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