Fighting the spread of sudden oak death

en found on a variety of ornamental shrubs, like rhododendrons and viburnums, in California nurseries that had infected oaks on the premises. While it doesnt kill these plants, they could provide the pathway for the fungus to reach the East.

"Oaks dont move around much, but people move ornamentals all around the country, with plants sometimes making two or three stops during the production process," Englander said. "The threat is that this California problem will soon become a nationwide problem if we dont learn how it moves and where it can and cannot relocate successfully."

Englander notes that nurseries can control the sudden oak death pathogen with the use of a common fungicide. But if an infected plant finds its way to oak forests in the East, it could easily spread to nearby trees and become a lethal pathogen. "You cant use fungicides to treat entire forests," he said. "Thats an overwhelming impossibility."

Rather than shut down movement of plant material to and from florists, nurseries and other plant-related industries, the USDA is supporting research to understand the biology and provide rapid detection of the pathogen so intelligent decisions can be made. Thats why Englander has been called on to find some of the answers. With a $200,000 grant from the USDA Foreign Disease-Weed Science Research Unit, hes trying to figure out "what makes it tick and what makes it croak." By evaluating the temperature, light and moisture conditions that it needs to grow, he hopes to determine the geographic and climatic limitations on its potential expansion.

He has already found that its growth does not appear to be affected by low temperatures. "It was a surprise to me that it was able to grow at really cold temperatures down to four degrees Celsius," Englander said. "If its not very sensitive to cold, then our New England winters may not be the limiting factor I had hoped."

Englander expects to identify additional growth and repr

Contact: Todd McLeish
University of Rhode Island

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