Dear Christine Winter Juneau,
I have just read an article published in The Sun Sentinel written by you discussing the death of slash pines across Florida.
For some months now a group of students from Coral Springs Charter High School (including myself) have been studying the slash pine population in Sandy Ridge Sanctuary in Coral Springs, attempting to ascertain the cause of their decrease in numbers. We observed an unusual number of dead or dying mature trees and researched possible reasons for such widespread death, confirming or dismissing factors with weekly observation of the sanctuary’s population.
We quickly realized no one factor can be completely accredited with the slash pine population demise and had to attribute that demise to the synergistic effect of several factors. We managed to narrow our research to the following aspects/causes, very much in accordance with your statements in The Sun Sentinel:
1. Presence of Insects / parasites – although this was easily established as we collected bug samples, how serious an infection we are facing is hard to tell. Marc Westfall, the city forester and our advisor in this project maintains it will be hard to find a tree without some insects infecting it.
2. Wind Sway – This is perhaps the hardest to prove. Since the slash pine decline seems to have originated about the time S. Florida experienced a series of very severe hurricanes, we theorize that wind sway probably played an important role. The slash pine roots, our research revealed, are very sensitive to construction and soil packing. Is it safe to say the extreme wind sway the hurricanes produced may have upset some tree roots? Our only support for the theory is the good condition of younger slash pines. Their smaller canopy and flexible stem may have allowed them to sustain the winds unharmed.
3. Climate/ weather trends – Shortly after the series of hurricanes struck October 2005, our area suffered a significant drought.
4. Fungi/diseases – This seems a rather promising aspect of our research. We discovered blue stain fungus infecting a dead tree we cut down. Whether more trees are infected is left to be discovered. The symptoms we observe seem consistent with blue stain fungus. We also discovered a single tree with a persistent case of pitch canker. Others may be present but we recognize we have a very limited view considering the number of slash pines in the sanctuary.
5. Nutrients – a separate group of students has been analyzing soil samples by slash pines for any anomalies and found little/nothing. We have been collecting needle samples as well, but how or what facilities we can use to analyze them remains a problem.
We would greatly appreciate any input you have to contribute. I have no doubt you expertise could lend us some advice and guidance. Do you have any ideas as to what facilities we can use to analyze our needle samples and confirm our bug identification? Also, although professionals we have been in contact with maintain recent hurricanes have weakened the trees in the fashion discussed, we have been unable to find research or documentation confirming our finds. Could you point us in the right direction?
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