Interview with Andrew Liebhold

Hi Sandy. You are a scientific coordinator of the ambitious EVA4.0 project. Can you tell us how did you join the project team?
My connection with the EVA project and CZU is a result of my longtime collaboration with Marek Turcani, who is the director of the EVA project and former FLD dean. As an officer in the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO), I helped organize a conference on forest insects in Banská Štiavnica (Slovak Republic) in 1996. At that meeting, I met Marek, was at the time working at the Slovak Forest Research Institute, and we developed a partnership that has lasted many years. Marek came to work in my laboratory in the US with funding from the US Fulbright program and we both worked together on a gypsy moth project in Japan when Marek was a visiting scientist at Kanazawa University. Several years ago, Marek, as FLD dean, was beginning to work on the proposal for the EVA project and he asked me for my input and participation.

You have a vast experience with research projects all over the world. Is there something special or unique about EVA4.0?
There are a lot of great things about the EVA project. It is unique in the broad scope of the research effort which spans many topics related to forest research. However, to me, the most impressive thing about the project is the impact that it is having on forest research in the Czech Republic. There is a long history of successful forestry in the Czech Republic spanning hundreds of years. But during the cold war era, researchers in eastern European countries were somewhat isolated from the rest of the world and there were few opportunities for international collaboration. With the 1990 transition of the government, things began to change slowly, But with the EVA project we are seeing a massive acceleration of forest research at FLD and this is having positive impacts in the rest of the country. Funding from the EVA project has brought in many foreign postdocs and senior scientists to work side-by-side with FLD staff and the sophistication of research at the university is increasing. Even though the EVA project was only designed to last 5 years, I believe it is going to have a lasting impact, boosting the productivity and quality of forest research in the Czech Republic.

Our project is supported from EU budget (European Regional Development Fund) and partly from Czech national budget. How is science financed in USA? Are there some similarities?
There are some similarities. Most of the funding for research in the US also comes from our national government and is distributed both competitively and non-competitively to institutions that are operated both by the National and State governments. I work for the US Forest Service, which is part of the US Department of Agriculture. Our budget is set by our US Congress and we have a mission of conducting research that benefits US Agriculture and Forestry. Similar research is conducted at Universities with most of the funding also coming from the National government. In the US Forest Service, much of our research is conducted on a long-term basis but in US Universities, faculty submit proposals that are typically shorter term of 2-5 years in duration. This funding supports salaries of graduate students (MS and PhD students) and postdocs.  

You are also leader of working group (subprogram 4) that is studying spreading patterns of invasive species. Is there something interesting what was discovered by your team?
The topic of biological invasions is important because many invasive species cause considerable damage to forests and other ecosystems. But this research also has considerable scientific appeal because we can learn about ecological interactions from observing invasions. Biological invasions are like little ecological experiments. One of the things that we've learned is that many of the undesirable impacts of invasions are due to a lack of prior evolutionary interactions among species. When you transport a species from one part of the world to another, these species often arrive without predators and pathogens that regulate their populations and trees may have no evolved defenses to these insects because of a lack of prior exposure. These factors sometimes lead to introduced insects having explosive, uncontrolled population growth that may have severe impacts on the trees that they feed on. 

We are also gaining some knowledge that is helpful for managing biological invasions. One thing that we are recently learning is that many species may invade new regions from other regions that they have previously invaded. We call these "bridgehead regions" and these areas serve as a jumping-off point for future invasions. This suggests new approaches to managing invasions because if these bridgehead regions can be identified then it may be possible for countries in other regions to cooperate to prevent more species from establishing there and invading other areas.

Czech Republic struggles with bark beetle outbreaks for last few year. The impacts on Czech forestry are huge. I think we can easily proclaim that global change is taking its toll. Are United States currently facing to some problems of similar scale?
We do have some problems that are similar in that forests in the western United States seem to be particularly impacted by climate change. In many of these forested areas, climate change is bringing higher temperatures and decreased precipitation. This leads to two serious problems, namely increased intensity and frequency of wildfires, but also decreased resistance to bark beetle outbreaks. Similar to the situation in the Czech Republic, climate change is reducing the ability of trees to resist attacks by bark beetles. However, we have fewer options for managing the situation because, unlike the Czech Republic, our forests are mostly not planted but regenerate naturally. There are also interactions between fire and bark beetle outbreaks. We are learning that after years of suppressing wildfires, we have inadvertently made many of our forests more susceptible to bark beetle outbreaks.

Sandy, you are American. Is there something what surprised or amazed you during your stay in Czech Republic?
Before joining the EVA project I had been to the Czech Republic once before, but only to Prague, which I was very impressed with. Like many foreigners, I was impressed by the beautiful architecture, the dumplings and the beer! But since the EVA project started and I've been spending more time there, the thing that I've really come to love are the small Czech towns outside of Prague. There are so many towns and they each have special history and culture. People are friendly and with the great train system it is easy to visit these places. There is also a lot of natural beauty in the Czech Republic and I like hiking and cycling to enjoy the forests and mountains. I feel like I need a lot of time to explore all of these different places so I'm looking forward to continuing my work at CZU and taking many weekend trips to explore the Czech Republic in the future.

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