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How can we speed-up the forest regeneration?

Image credit: https://unsplash.com/photos/UmncJq4KPcA

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Juran Jan 19, 2021
We all love and need trees. They give us apples, rubber, medicines, wood, fresh air and much more!
But why do we need to wait so long for a tree to grow?
Can we somehow make the trees grow faster (not just the height, but also the mass)?
Do you have an idea of how to make any step of the forestation faster (from seeding to the growth itself)?

The idea behind

Pelješac is a beautiful peninsula on the Croatian south. It is known for the nicest wines, olive oil, and beautiful untouched nature. Sadly, five years ago almost a third of the peninsula was devastated by the wildfires. Hills covered with giant pine trees became the graveyard of thousands of dead logs, leaving the people and nature in shock. To make the peninsula beautiful again, it will take years for new pine trees to grow.

The (partial) solutions

  • One solution to make this process faster could be to seed/plant some other plant species that grow faster. This option could bring nature back to life much faster but could encounter problems of growing in conditions different from the optimal ones.
  • The other solution could be to prepare and optimize the soil for the fast and unobstructed growth of the trees that grew there before (pine trees) and then plant millions of trees using drones (video)! But that tree is still not going to grow big in a couple of years, but the process will take at least 20.

The ask

Is there a way how we can make the process of pine tree reforestation of the Pelješac penisula faster?
Is there a fast way how we can seed/plant/grow the trees since the rate of deforestation by lumbering and wildfires is increasing rapidly?
Can we grow them in optimized and controlled conditions and then plant them? How to do that efficiently?
Can we genetically engineer and "force" pine to grow faster?
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Creative contributions

Erosion control blankets (coconut or similar)

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic Jan 20, 2021

Blankets made of coconut fibre are popularly used for erosion control. They are biodegradable and should last long enough to provide wind erosion cover to the substrate and possibly aid in moisture retention. This could improve growth conditions for the new forest.
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Juran4 months ago
This seems like a nice anti-erosion solution, but the area we are talking about is very big and would require a ridiculous amount of these "blankets". Besides the expensiveness, I am not sure how well this blanket responds to fires and also, does it degrade after time or its parts can serve as a fire starter later.
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Darko Savic
Darko Savic4 months ago
Juran K. It biodegrades after a year or so. I think it can be made to endure as long as it's needed.

Maybe it could be useful as an experiment then. Cover a 100m2 area and see the difference in growth.

It could be weaved out of local agricultural waste (wheat, etc).

If the recuring fire is an imminent threat then that takes precedence above all other solutions are attempted. This has been talked about here https://brainstorming.com/r/s124

Create fire-resistant trees and plants

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Jamila
Jamila Jan 25, 2021
I wonder if we could create fire-resistant trees and plants using gene-editing methods. I know that gene-editing methods have successfully produced drought-resistant and disease-resistant crops in the past. I guess the ultimate question would be whether we can make fire-resistant trees and plants using gene-editing?

If we can make fire-resistant trees and plants, it would directly prevent the devastation caused by wildfires. Wildfires are becoming more common nowadays. So, we must find ways to preserve the environment around us.

Hypothetically speaking, the pine trees could be gene-edited to become fire resistant, or specialist, “fire safety trees” could be planted around the vulnerable plants and trees to prevent wildfires from spreading, subsequently giving plants protection from wildfires.

The research studies so far have shown that some plants can become tolerant to 45ºC for a limited time, like 1 or 2 hours. Plants become somewhat heat-tolerant by impacting the plant’s thermotolerance. This can be done in several ways, such as increasing the levels of heat shock proteins, altering osmolytes, or manipulating the membrane fluidity. However, wildfires are really hot. It’s been estimated that they reach 800 °C and higher! So, the heat resistant plants engineered in previous studies can’t tolerate anywhere near the temperature needed for wildfires at the moment!

Positives
+ Prevent damage: we might be able to prevent damage to the environment caused by wildfires if we can successfully create fire-resistant plants.
+ Time: you won’t need to regrow the plants and trees after wildfires, and thus, you’ll save time.

Negatives
- Unintended problems: there might be unintended side effects of gene-editing.
- Expense: it would be expensive to conduct the research and then produce these plants and trees on a mass scale.
- Feasibility: could we even make a plant tolerant to such a high temperature?

[1]Singh, Amanjot, and Anil Grover. "Genetic engineering for heat tolerance in plants." Physiology and Molecular Biology of Plants 14.1 (2008): 155-166.

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Juran4 months ago
Really interesting thoughts, Jamila ! I love the idea of having pine tree forests resistant to wildfires.

By challenging the heat shock response and thermotolerance, we try to metabolically make cell proteins and other molecules resistant to extreme heat. But the wildfires spread so quickly because trees ARE the burning material. Maybe we need a physicist here, but I think the wood itself should be less ignitable then. For example, the pine bark could be modified to endure and "refuse" to burn. In the pine tree example, the reason for that is not only the nature of the wood itself but also the resin, which is very inflammable (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RuPRqG9dFys). The pine tree (and similar plants) produce chemicals, such as turpentine. In a discussion (http://archive-srel.uga.edu/outreach/ecoviews/ecoview090222.htm), a scientist explained that the highly inflammable chemicals in the bark of the trees are actually a highly effective mechanism of dealing with regular wildfires. It could be true, but the evolution could go on without these forced clearings of beautiful ancient forests (I believe).

The negative effect of this approach would be that the pine tree resistant to burning would be completely useless for heating. Although people avoid it because it´s already very bad for chimneys and leaves a lot of greasy soot, in the areas where the pine is the only wood available, it would become a problem.


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Jamila
Jamila 4 months ago
Juran K. That's very true. Fire-resistant pines could be a massive problem for people wanting to use the wood for burning. I agree that burning wood isn't great, but for some people, that's the only way they can stay warm.

Perhaps, there could be a mixture of fire-resistant pines and regular pines planted in forests. That way, we may get some protection from wildfires, but also, pine can be used for traditional burning - then again, traditional burning isn't exactly ecofriendly. So maybe we could move away from wood-burning practices. 😊



Manipulating PXY and CLE gene expressions can lead to a 2-fold increase in wood formation

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Juran Apr 06, 2021
In 2018 paper , scientists manipulated the expression of two genes, PXY and CLE, involved in cambial cell division and woody tissue organization. They engineered four plasmids constructs with the inserted genes: one with 35S promoter (known to give widespread expression) and the other three with tissue-specific promoters (ANT, PP2, and both combined).

The results showed that:
  • ectopic manipulation of expression resulted in vascular tissue abnormalities and poor plant growth
  • precise tissue-specific PtPP2::PttCLE41-PttANT::PttPXY double overexpression plants exhibited a 2-fold increase in the rate of wood formation, were taller, and possessed larger leaves compared to the controls

[1]https://www.cell.com/current-biology/fulltext/S0960-9822(15)00162-1

Famous horses to enrich the substrate for the forest

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic Jan 20, 2021
Some areas are famous for a local breed of horses , bearing the area's name. For example Holsteiner, Hanoverian, Lipizzaner, and so on. Such horses are bred in luxurious stables surrounded by large pastures. The stables themselves are frequently visited by tourists and sustain their operations by certifying and selling expensive horses.

Such stables produce large quantities of horse manure. The idea is to establish a local breed, spin a story around it, make it popular as "Pelješac savior horse", use 100% of the produced manure to aid reforestation. The hey for the horses would, of course, have to be transported in from other areas of the country.

Something similar could be done to aid the forestation of bigger rocky islands.

[1]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warmblood

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Povilas S
Povilas S4 months ago
I'm not sure though if horse manure would be a suitable fertilizer for all plant species, it might be species-specific. If we are talking about faster growth of one or a few particular tree species this is something to find out first.
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Juran4 months ago
This idea is actually quite good. It could also help the shattered tourism to come back more luxurious and stronger than ever.
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Darko Savic
Darko Savic4 months ago
Juran K. I will post this as an idea. I seriously considered it in the past:)

Things go faster when your mind is slower

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Povilas S
Povilas S Jan 20, 2021
I don't mean to tease with that kind of title, it's just that there are two sides to this problem. On one hand, it's good to seek progress and ways how to improve things, but fast doesn't always equal good. And the second part is what I would like to expand on.

The important thing to consider is this - people first devastate their environment and then are trying to come up with ways how to regenerate it as fast as possible so that they could keep consuming as much or even more. Nature has its pace and it's perhaps for a reason. You talk about trees that have been destroyed due to wildfires - seems like a natural cause at first, but wildfires are closely linked with climate change, which is in turn linked with human activity. So in a sense that urge to speed up things that drives human progress killed the trees in the first place and now the same urge wants to regenerate the trees faster than usual. This is not how nature works.

There's beauty and value in letting nature do its job and the apple that has ripen naturally over time is more appealing than the one sprayed with plant hormones and forced to ripen quickly. Unfortunately, that's the kind of food most people eat in a contemporary world. Waiting also gives a virtue of patience and gratitude and thus makes the end result more valuable.

Sure, we could force trees to grow fast with genetic engineering, but I don't think that's the right approach, it would only add to the "humans replacing nature" process. I'd much prefer wild forests rather than GMO forests. I think what we need is to allow more wild nature to regenerate in places with extensive agriculture, and, where possible, urbanized territories, replace monocultural crops with ecosystems with greater biodiversity, wild or semi-wild food gardens, etc. This requires a certain, more harmonious, non-rushing mindset.

Using more nutrient-rich soil or faster-growing tree species is a more natural approach, but still, the question remains - do we really need this? Once again - the things that are harder to obtain are more appreciated and better taken care of - maybe next time more efforts would be put in trying to protect naturally regrown forest in the first place.


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Juran4 months ago
Hehe, I like your contribution. It is very down-to-earth.

I completely agree with everything you said. I love the old forests that have this prehistorical magnificent vibe. I am very patient and I would never post anything like this if we weren´t on a Brainstorming platform. :)

But because we are, I dared to ask you this. The session text sounds very Monsanto-like, but it´s because my mind doesn´t see any other solution. Neither does yours. But someone will maybe come up with a great idea about which fast-growing plant to seed, or a really cool way how to plant trees in unreachable areas. Maybe there is a way how we can soon again have a magnificent forest on the Pelješac Peninsula, without the use of GMOs and many years of waiting.

Besides that, people still do research on longevity, no matter how serious and big philosophical issue it presents.
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Povilas S
Povilas S4 months ago
Juran K. Yes, I totally agree with that. Once again, I didn't mean to be offputting, just that there are two sides to this and I focused on that more conservative (so to speak) one in this contribution, because that is also an important thing to consider together with all the creative and proactive solutions:)

A breakdown of associated problems

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic Jan 20, 2021
This is a worthy problem, pestering many similar areas worldwide. Let's put together a list of all problems that aggregate into the big picture. To get the list of problems started I will take a few guesses (please correct me if I'm mistaking):
  • rocky land with little organic matter on the ground - poor substrate for the forest
  • regular strong winds
  • a high concentration of sea salt in the air (and ground via rain?)
  • regular periods of drought
  • what else?
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Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarni4 months ago
All these problems will affect de novo forestation. If we are talking about reforestation in a deforested area, rocky land, strong winds, and a high concentration of salt in the air would not matter. These conditions were there when there were trees before they were burnt in the fire and the trees survived fine then.
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Darko Savic
Darko Savic4 months ago
Shubhankar Kulkarni Right. The tree species are pretty resilient but very slow-growing (thus the problem). In better conditions, they would grow faster. I was aiming at listing the poor conditions so that we can then figure out solutions for them one by one. If we manage to temporarily alleviate some of the conditions, this should speed up the growth of trees. Once the forest gets going it can take care of the rest by itself. More trees hold more water, provide more cover from the wind, and so on.

Non-invasive, resilient tree species that provide temporary cover from the wind

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic Jan 20, 2021
Strong winds in the area are one of the problems that make it difficult for the burnt down forest to recover. With no trees, the existing soil is blown away and young plants are trying to survive in a much harsher environment.

The idea here is what you initially mentioned in your session description - to find the fastest-growing, non-invasive, resilient tree species that could be trucked in already several meters tall. The trees would be propped up with support to withstand the winds while the roots take hold. The adult trees would be planted so that they provide wind cover for the rest of the would-be forest.

The support providing. non-native species could either be cut down after they have served their purpose or let them be if there are no negative consequences due to their presence.

So, can we find some suitable tree species?
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Juran4 months ago
The land on the peninsula is not desert-like. Now, 5 years later, you have small maquis plants growing there. They are protecting the land (as you mentioned), but at the same time competing with pines for nutrients and water, which makes their come-back much harder.
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Povilas S
Povilas S4 months ago
Juran K. Maybe some regular rarefying of maquis vegetation would help.

Helicopter irrigation system

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic Jan 20, 2021

People on the Spanish Canary islands sustain their agriculture during periods of drought by stockpiling rainwater in large basins. The basins are dug into the ground in optimal locations that then allow irrigation of the surrounding area without the need for pumps. They just open the valves when needed and let the gravity take care of the rest.

A well-placed basin near the top of the hill can have a network of pipes or small creeks reach every part of the reforestation area. If the basin is dry during periods of drought, a helicopter could drop in a few rounds of water. A firefighting plane would also be an option, with a bit less precision but bigger load capacity.

The water can trickle out of the main tank into the irrigation system just enough to provide the optimal growing conditions. Place humidity sensors into the ground at various locations.
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Juran4 months ago
I like the basin reservoirs idea. How would you fill them with water or protect them from drying up during summer? This land is made of karst, a stone known for many pores, which makes the thing much harder.

The helicopter or firefighting plane idea seems good and I would agree to use it. But I will tell you a story.
During these wildfires 5 years ago, I was volunteering in the hills with a 25-liter "backpack" repeatedly being refilled with water for 4 days, because my house was also at stake. We were on a "mission" to stop the slow-spreading fire of the low bushes in the vineyards. I was bravely moving forward and the helicopters throwing water were always somewhere around. One time, I heard people yelling towards me and I continued my way. Suddenly a guy came and pulled me back with an amazing force after which he dragged me backward for 15 meters. A few seconds later, more than 2 tons of water dropped at the place where I was standing before and crushed two giant pine trees like crackers.
--> Maybe the force produced when water from the helicopter or the plane hits the land would be too much for just seeded pine trees. :D


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Darko Savic
Darko Savic4 months ago
Juran K. The water would be dropped on rocks - a designated throwing area, from which it would naturally flow into the artificial pool - a small lake really (made of PVC foil or suitable material). There would be some evaporation. The pool could be covered with floating tarp or balls that would somewhat prevent evaporation. The pools in the Canary Islands are open. It seems evaporation is not an issue for them.

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General comments

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic4 months ago
Good video to gain some insight into forestation https://youtu.be/PkVZBSKdwQM
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Darko Savic
Darko Savic4 months ago
It's not really the same situation, but maybe we can extract some clues from this video https://youtu.be/W69kRsC_CgQ