Environment

Cardiac surgeon by day and a tree doctor at night

Imaging study of borers in trees. Photo: Special arrangement  

Borers are like Macavity the Mystery Cat whose presence is felt only by the visible results of their hidden and unsettling behaviour. They are mysteriously absent from the scene of crime. Tree branches may dry up and fall, suggesting an insidious process within. Larvae of certain insects, borers operate concealed and therefore the blame cannot be laid confidently at these unseen larvae’s prolegs.

Over a decade ago, Dr Janardhana Reddy found trees at his farm display telltale signs of borer-infestation.

Due to the regular lack of clarity about whether and where they are nestling, measures to check borers are usually stabs in the dark. With the extent of borer-driven damage remaining unknown, one cannot be sure if the damage control exercise is adequate to the danger posed by them.

Imaging study of borers in trees. Photos: Special arrangement

Imaging study of borers in trees. Photos: Special arrangement  

As a cardiac surgeon, Dr Janardhana is accustomed to working with certainties, made possible by advanced imaging technologies. He had an Eureka moment, and before doubts could strangulate the idea, like wild creepers do hapless plants, he acted upon it.

He started treating the trees as if they were a part of a human body that can be subjected to imaging studies. From trees suspected to be infested with borers, small and relevant branches — two-and-half feet long and three to four inches in diameter — would be removed and put through a flurry of xrays (dental xRays). CT and MRI scans were also run on these specimens.

A series of 16 xRays on a specimen log of tree, taken over a period of time, showed the borers grow and leave, shares Dr. Janardhana, who is Chief Cardiovascular Surgeon at the Apollo Speciality Hospitals in Vanagaram. The doctor underlines the effectiveness of MRI scans in detailing the presence of borers.

Dental Xray imaging being carried out on a tree suspected to be infested with borers. Photo: Special Arrangement

Dental Xray imaging being carried out on a tree suspected to be infested with borers. Photo: Special Arrangement  

He found moringa oleifera (drumstick) tree to be particularly susceptible to borer-infestation, and the coconut and mango trees were far behind. Tiny notches on the surface of coconut trees may indicate borer activity, the doctor adds.

Mango trees are known to an easy target for borer infestions, and he discloses that around 25 years ago he had studied borers in the mango trees through cut branches, with the help of farmers. By using imaging technology to study these pests, he was only building upon an already deeply ensconced interest. The doctor discloses how he created presentation of his studies and placed it before people in the thick of tree care.

On what benefits can accrue from such imaging studies, D Narasimhan, botanist and member of Tamil Nadu Biodiversity Board notes that knowing the extent of damage and which section of the tree is infested can make for a targetted treatment plan. He says: “Insecticide can be injected into appropriate sections.”


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Printable version | Dec 7, 2021 6:05:09 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/cardiac-surgeon-by-day-and-a-tree-doctor-at-night/article36915328.ece

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