Japan's oak trees are confronting a pandemic. But this crisis began long before COVID-19, and the threat comes in the form of a fungus carried by insect pests rather than a virus.

Known as nara-gare (oak wilt disease), oak trees are withering and dying en masse nationwide, which has put the health of satoyama — an intermediate, partially human-made zone between primeval forests and arable flat land — at risk, experts say.

Kobe University researchers, in collaboration with businesses, are now trying to reverse the tide by digitally cataloging the trees and facilitating their use, either as material for furniture or for green tourism. With these methods, extensive oak wilt can be prevented, the researchers say.