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When scientists become detectives: investigating systematic tree poisoning in a protected cove

Corona, Christophe
Published in Heliyon. 2020, vol. 6, no. 2, e03386
Abstract The systematic killing of trees is usually aimed at eradicating pests or alien plant species susceptible to harm existing natural ecosystems. In some cases, trees may become the subject of dispute between neighbors, which sometimes ends in tree death after months or years of dispute. In this paper, we analyze a case of clandestine tree killing and look into ways through which evidence left by delinquents can be analyzed a posteriori with state-of-the-art approaches. The investigation presented here looks at a series of old-growth trees that were supposedly poisoned inside a protected, nineteenth century grove in Switzerland. After the sudden, unexplained death of several old Black poplar (Populus nigra) trees along the main alley in fall 2015 and their subsequent removal, the dying of five additional, neighboring Sycamore maple (Acer pseudoplatanus) and English walnut (Juglans regia) trees in 2016 promptly triggered a suite of criminal investigations at the property. During an initial inspection, a large number of boreholes was found in the root plates of the dying trees. We present findings obtained from tree-ring, wood anatomical and dendrogeochemical investigations performed on root, stem and leave material from the assumedly poisoned trees and show that massive amounts of chemical elements – supposedly in the form organic pesticides with high Al, As, Fe, Cr, Ni contents, aluminum phosphides or glyphosate-based pesticides – were injected into 36 boreholes drilled into the roots around September 2016. Results obtained in this study are currently used in criminal investigations, and are a nice example of how scientific detectives can help their “real World” colleagues in identifying delinquents.
Keywords DendroecologyDendrogeochemistryTree woundingQuantitative wood anatomyAcer pseudoplatanusJuglans regiaApplied ecologyFloraEnvironmental assessmentEnvironmental healthEnvironmental toxicologyEnvironmental science
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Research groups Environmental Biogeochemistry and Ecotoxicology
Climatic Change and Climate Impacts
ISE Climat
ISE Pôle Sciences
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STOFFEL, Markus et al. When scientists become detectives: investigating systematic tree poisoning in a protected cove. In: Heliyon, 2020, vol. 6, n° 2, p. e03386. doi: 10.1016/j.heliyon.2020.e03386 https://archive-ouverte.unige.ch/unige:131206

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Deposited on : 2020-02-24

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