Dead Tree Detective

There’s a research project underway to put a scientific spin on dieback. The Dead Tree Detective (TDTD) is a research project appealing to members of the community to assist in gathering observations of dieback events taking place across Australia. The year 2020 arrived in a haze of electric orange and thick black smoke. As Australia’s bushfire crisis bounded across backyards, rainforests, bushland and international television screens, a heavy blanket of helplessness settled itself across the charred landscape. We watched with increasing horror as drought-stricken Australia went up in flames. Now, more than ever, we need action. This is where the sleuthing comes in.

Started in June 2018, TDTD founding scientist Professor Belinda Medlyn and her team couldn’t have predicted the intense drought and fire ahead. “The drought this country has experienced over the last two years, coupled with intense heatwaves, has significantly affected a lot of areas”, Belinda said. “The records we are receiving stretch from South-Eastern Queensland down into Tasmania, and there are patterns that are emerging – what sort of things die, where they die, when they die – but we still have quite a few gaps that we are trying to fill in.

“We need people across the country to record what’s going on in their own local patch so that we can get a bigger picture of what’s happening and where the hot spots of trees dying are.” Of the hundreds of observations submitted to TDTD, a pattern of affected species includes many commonly found natives, including Blakely’s Red Gum (Eucalyptus blakelyi), Snow Gum (Eucalyptus pauciflora), Mountain Gum (Eucalyptus dalrympleana), Silver Top Stringybark (Eucalyptus laevopinea) and Old Man Banksia (Banksia serrata). The dryness of the vegetation as it wilts in drought increases the risk of fire and also makes it harder for the trees to recover after the fire.

Considering the large amounts of dry and dead vegetation that fuelled the intensity of Australia’s recent catastrophic blazes, these mapped recordings could have the potential for us to understand the behaviour of recent and future fire events.

How you can help

Keep an eye out for signs of dead or dying trees. The dieback doesn’t have to be caused by drought. Insects, fire, erosion – TDTD are interested in seeing tree death in all its manifestations. When you spot something that appears to be a dead or dying tree, take a photo and make a note of its location. Whether it’s a quick snapshot of a forest along the side of the road or a tree growing near where you live, if it looks suspicious, snap it.

Finally, upload the image of the tree and its location to The Dead Tree Detective website (https://tinyurl.com/yxejsclr) or email it to deadtreedetective@westernsydney.edu.au You can also view tree images on the website.