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Humans fostering forest-destroying disease
Date:8/15/2007

Enjoying your August vacation? Well, (as they say in the summer movies) theres a killer in the woods. Its strike has been consistently quiet, sudden, and deadly. Unknowingly, we have all been playing into its hands But put down that rock -- you personally are not in any danger. Its the woods themselves that are getting axed and you may be an accomplice.

Melodrama aside, the threat is very serious the killer is an invasive, forest-destroying plant disease known as Sudden Oak Death. Caused by an (apparently) non-native water mold (Phytophthora ramorum), the disease affects a broad range of woody plants, and is particularly lethal to our native oaks. In the last few years, it has infected and killed large stands of western oaks with alarming suddenness (hence the name). From its initial California appearance sometime in the mid-1990s, the disease has been spreading rapidly, changing the landscape as it goes.

People tend to not care about plants and forests as much as we do about humans and animals, but sudden oak death could be a bird flu of the plant world waiting to happen, said Ross Meentemeyer, a landscape ecologist at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. This may be even worse than chestnut blight in its impact on our forests, since it is affecting multiple keystone species.

Since the same plant pathogen has also been found in forests of Europe, it is suspected (but not yet proven) that the sudden oak death pathogen was introduced by humans, probably from Asia. What has been shown by recent research is that human activities are amplifying the diseases impact and spread.

A recent article published by Meentemeyer and colleagues in the Journal of Ecology showed that pathogen inoculum load (the actual amount of infectious pathogen present) is greater in forests with high landscape connectivity and high abundance of host species. In a follow-up study forthcoming in Ecological Applications, Meentemeyer and his c
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Contact: James Hathaway
jbhathaw@uncc.edu
794-687-6675
University of North Carolina at Charlotte
Source:Eurekalert

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