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A video cookbook for tree-ring research

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The Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL) has broken new ground in knowledge transfer by publishing the first scientific video article on tree-ring research in the Journal of Visualized Experiments (JoVE). Its aim is to make the latest knowledge available to all.


Passing on the new knowledge generated by research is very important to WSL. With this in mind, its dendroecologists (tree-ring researchers) have produced a film in which they explain the basic steps involved in tree-ring investigation. The result is the world's first scientific video article on the subject of dendroecology, published recently in the Journal of Visualized Experiments (JoVE).



Using new techniques to visualise tiny wood structures

"It's like a cookbook containing recipes for the laboratory," explains Holger Gärtner, scientific head of the wood anatomy laboratory in WSL's Dendro Department. The video shows researchers taking core samples from trees and preparing and analysing them in the laboratory. Using microtomes newly developed by Gärtner, they cut them into in ultra-thin strips, just 20 micrometres thick. These micro sections, which resemble film strips, are then treated with various substances to make the anatomy, i.e. the tiny structures within the wood, visible. Finally, sophisticated visualisation techniques enable the condition of the tree, its health and growth, to be assessed.

"The video may help other research teams to establish the new tree-ring techniques in their laboratory," says Gärtner. In fact, only recently a scientist from Madagascar visited WSL to benefit from Swiss expertise in tree-ring research. She took her newly-acquired knowledge as well as some equipment and techniques back to her homeland and has started to set up her own lab there. The video article provides her with a useful staff training tool.

Gärtner is excited about the latest developments at WSL's wood anatomy laboratory: "Until now, we've only been able to process short cores, just a few centimetres long. With the new microtomes, we can prepare micro sections up to 40 cm in length." The process opens up an array of new possibilities as it means that the wood anatomy of tree rings can be analysed over many centuries without interruption. Until now that was only possible by laboriously piecing together multiple micro sections, which often resulted in errors.

Knowledge transfer from cutting-edge research

Ulf Büntgen, Head of the Dendroecology Group, is proud of WSL's tree-ring research: "Our wood anatomy laboratory is a world leader in innovations and new developments. We want to share the knowledge we've acquired in recent years with everyone, not keep it to ourselves." He therefore sees a video article as a logical step in further improving knowledge transfer. The English-language video and associated article are aimed primarily at a scientific audience, other research groups and students. Like other scientific papers, the article has been peer-reviewed by researchers from other institutions.

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