How can researchers communicate complex ecological issues to the public? To start, they can work with professional communicators.
Jiri Hulcr, an associate professor of forest entomology at the University of Florida’s School of Forest, Fisheries, and Geomatics Science (SFFGS), spent the 2020-21 academic year on sabbatical in his native Czechia. One of the world’s preeminent bark beetle biologists, Hulcr’s loftiest goal for his sabbatical was to communicate how land managers in central Europe are finding solutions to the region’s looming forest crisis.
In recent years, central European forests have been decimated by a natural pest called the spruce bark beetle, or Ips typographus. These trees are more susceptible to the beetle in their weakened state, a result of a combination of a changing climate and historic land management. In 2019 alone, over 22 million cubic meters of spruce in Czechia and another 11 million cubic meters in Germany were laid to waste. Though the spruce bark beetle is the obvious scapegoat, there is much more to the story – forest health is about actions managers take to become more resilient.
To document these forest management strategies, Hulcr worked with a science education production company, Untamed Science, whose videos have millions of views on YouTube, to produce two short films. “My goal for this project is to clarify that forest health and forest profitability are the same thing,” Hulcr said about working on the films, “Solutions from a forest apocalypse” and “The value of a forest.” He and the filmmakers also produced an online toolkit including virtual reality tours of different forest types. “Though this project took place in central Europe, the lessons learned can be applied to forests around the world – natural forests with a diverse set of species are more resilient to climate change than single-species forests,” Hulcr added.
Hulcr is a founding member of ProForest, a multi-disciplinary program UF that has research, extension, and education programs focused on forest health and resilience.