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Weather, Eucalyptus Dieback in New England, and a General Hypothesis of the Cause of Dieback

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Title:Weather, Eucalyptus Dieback in New England, and a General Hypothesis of the Cause of Dieback
Authors:White, TCR
Date Issued:1986
Publisher:University of Hawaii Press
Citation:White TCR. 1986. Weather, Eucalyptus dieback in New England, and a general hypothesis of the cause of dieback. Pac Sci 40: 58-78.
Abstract:On the New England Tablelands in Australia between 1950 and
1980 very many eucalypts declined and died. This dieback was strongly correlated
with a change in the pattern of rainfall. Starting from 1945, trees were more
frequently exposed during the growing season to excess of soil moisture followed
immediately by a shortage of water. Several species of Eucalyptus were affected,
but those species which normally grow on poorly drained sites died first
and continued, even on better sites, to be the species worst and most frequently
affected. Declining trees were heavily and repeatedly attacked by defoliating
insects. The same species had declined and died in the same localities approximately
100 years earlier. In this century declines and diebacks in other parts of
Australia and overseas showed many similarities to that of eucalypts in New
England and to each other. In particular , they have been associated with departure
of rainfall from the norm and with insects and fungi attacking mostly old
trees and species growing on harsh sites.
It is proposed here that the primary cause of diebacks and declines is a change
in the pattern of rainfall which physiologically stresses trees via changes in the
availability of water to their roots. Senescing and suppressed trees and those
growing on sites most prone to be flooded and dried out will be first and worst
affected. Defoliating and cambium-feeding insects and root-killing fungi are
secondary, successfully attacking only stressed trees. They may hasten the decline
and eventual death of badly stressed trees. Predators are more successful on
stressed trees because more of their young survive when they feed on tissues made
more nutritious by the release of nutrients during senescence induced by water
stress. The extent to which they can attack successfully depends on the frequency
and amplitude of stress the trees experience. Thus declines and diebacks are but
one extreme of a continuum of response of trees to physiological stress; at the
other extreme are small, short-lived increases of predators on one or a few trees.
Outbreaks of insects and fungi of varying duration and severity fall between these
two extremes.
Appears in Collections: Pacific Science Volume 40, Numbers 1-4, 1986

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