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Bodyguards for trees

Researchers for a European-wide Citizen Science Project call for students to work with clay

Freiburg, Sep 25, 2018

Bodyguards for trees

Photo: Jürgen Gocke

For a project called “Oak Bodyguards” more than 400 high school students placed clay caterpillars in the crowns of oak trees in the spring of 2018 in order to gather information about the trees’ defense against pests. The study sets out to examine climate effects on the oaks themselves and the animals that hunt the pests. In 2019 the second survey wave will take place in Germany and other participating countries. Prof. Dr. Michael Scherer-Lorenzen, a geobotanist at the University of Freiburg, is encouraging teachers to allow their students to participate in the project: “The more classes that participate, the stronger the data foundation and the value of the results.”

In the spring of 2019 the project participants will make caterpillars made of clay and wire and attach them to an English oak in the neighborhood. Predatory animals will attack the decoy, thereby leaving traces through their beaks, teeth or parts of their mouth. After an interval of two and four weeks, the schools will examine and photograph the dummies for characteristic predatory traces. Some of the oak leaves affected by feeding will be sent to the project director Dr. Bastien Castagneyrol from the French National Institute for Agricultural Research INRA in Bordeaux to analyze the extent of the leaf damage and the leaves’ chemical content.

The oak is one of the tree species in Europe that houses the largest variety of herbivorous insects. Although they usually only eat a small part of the leaf, it can weaken the trees and slow their overall growth. A massive explosion of pests can even kills oaks if they coincide with disease or other stress factors such as a drought as a result of climate change.


For more information about the project and registration

Article about the project in uni’leben
(German only)


Prof. Dr. Michael Scherer-Lorenzen
Faculty of Biology
University of Freiburg
Tel.: 0761/203-5014