Native oak decline threatens thousands of species

Researchers have found that the decline in native oak puts more than 2,300 species at risk.

King oak being surveyed © Blenheim Palace.

Oak trees have a reputation for supporting a range of biodiversity, however, research published recently has uncovered just how many species depend on British oak to survive.

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The study, called Protect Oak Ecosystems, has produced the most comprehensive list of species known to use native oak trees.

The 2,300 species include invertebrates, birds, mammals and fungi, as well as others, but the study did not include bacteria or microorganisms, so the real number is likely to be much greater.

“Our really old large oak trees support the greatest number of species. We are currently benefiting from trees established hundreds of years ago,” says lead author Dr Ruth Mitchell from James Hutton Institute.

“We hope that this work will help us start thinking now about how our woodlands could look in hundreds of years and the biodiversity they might support.”

Ancient oak tree © Blenheim Palace.
Ancient oak tree © Blenheim Palace.

Out of the species surveyed, 326 were completely dependent on oak and a further 229 highly reliant on the tree.

These 555 species are most at risk from any decline in oak health and include the oak lutestring moth, oak polypore fungi and oak leaf-roller beetle.

The study also assessed 30 other tree species to determine their suitability in replacing declining oaks — they found an increase in native trees would support woodland species.

King oak being surveyed © Blenheim Palace.
King oak being surveyed © Blenheim Palace.

“This publication highlights the importance of addressing the serious threats to our oak trees which would also affect a great number of species that are dependent on them,” comments Lord Gardiner, Defra minister.

“What we learn from this project will feed directly into our Action Oak initiative, whose aim is to protect the UK’s 121 million oak trees from plant pests and diseases.”

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Read the paper in the journal Biological Conservation.