Major Live Oak Study Underway On Coast - - The News for South Mississippi

Major Live Oak Study Underway On Coast

With 72 live oak trees spread over six sites, Julie Dobbs admits there are times she feels like she's gotten in over her head.

"Not just because of the number of trees that's in the study but the size of each of the trees in the study," says Dobbs. "There hasn't been any study like this before especially here on the coast."

Insects, soil make-up, root nutrients and water stress are among the indicators the doctoral student uses to determine the health of the trees. Dobbs says centuries old live oaks like those on the grounds of the Biloxi Veterans Affairs become more susceptible with age.

"They're defenses get lower and they become more prone to insect attacks and diseases. It's also been shown that stresses on the trees such as wind stress, water stress which definitely comes along with hurricanes also lowers defenses on the trees," she says. "That adds to the fact that we might have more insect and disease attacks coming into these treasures we have here on the coast."

Early results show a wood eating beetle attacking some of the live oaks who felt Katrina's saltwater. Even those who escaped the storm surge face another Katrina related danger, debris trucks.

"It's something that we need is the trucks that come in, but it's causing soil compaction which reduces oxygen levels that get to the roots of the trees. That also has a negative effect on not only soil characteristics but that's going to affect the growth of the tree as well."

Dobbs has split the live oaks into a control group and then two other groups that will receive different kinds of recovery treatments. She will then determine the usefulness of the treatments. 

"The one treatment is the homeowner regime.  It's things that a homeowner would be able to do to increase the health of the trees after the storm which is going to include hardwood mulch and irrigation." Dobbs adds, "We also have our second regime which is a professional regime which you would normally hire an arborist to come out to do for you. It includes a larger mulch ring, aerification of the soil, insecticide if deemed needed, possibly selective pruning and irrigation there as well. "

With a year a half left in her study Dobbs's work is far from over. She's hopeful what she's doing will make a difference.

Dobbs says "I'm from this area and I wanted to do something more to try to say that I tried to help out after the storm. I guess you could say live oaks are a synonym of the old South and they're really important to the economics here and also the ambiance. Once they're gone, it's not going to be the same."

Doctoral student Julie Dobbs' live oak research project is in conjunction with the MSU Coastal Research and Extension Office and is being paid for in part by a USDA forestry grant. The other study sites include Beauvoir, Keesler, and  the Long Beach campus of the University of Southern Mississippi.

by Danielle Thomas

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