Researchers: Fire may help combat fatal dogwood epidemic

GAINESVILLE, Fla. --- There may be hope for that embattled Southern icon, the dogwood tree, say University of Florida researchers.

Most dogwoods in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park have died in recent years, the victims of an epidemic devastating dogwoods up and down the East Coast. So Mike Jenkins, a park ecologist, was surprised to discover in a recent survey of parklands that dogwoods in a few spots had not only survived the fungal disease, but flourished. The common thread: The three plots, part of land set aside for research, had all been part of an area burned in a forest fire more than two decades ago.

In a follow-up study, Jenkins and Shibu Jose, an assistant professor in the University of Florida's School of Forest Resources and Conservation, are testing the obvious hypothesis: that fire may impede the onslaught of the fatal disease, dogwood anthracnose. If true, that may suggest a way to save at least some dogwoods from an otherwise bleak fate. "If it turns out that fire can prevent anthracnose or reduce its impact, it would give parks and other large landowners a method for fighting the disease prescribed burning," said Erich Holzmueller, a doctoral student working on the project.

The team will present the research and preliminary findings at the 2003 Ecological Society of America annual meeting beginning today in Savannah, Ga.

Dogwood anthracnose is a disease caused by a fungus, Discula destructiva. Although its origin is unclear, it is thought to have originated in Asia . Since first striking dogwoods on the East Coast in New York in the late 1970s, the disease has marched steadily south, killing more than 90 percent of the dogwoods in some eastern hardwood stands of forest.

Today, the disease threatens dogwoods from Maine to central Georgia and from British Columbia to Washington and Oregon on the West Coast. The leaves of infected trees develop large holes and often fall off. Anthracnose kills dogwoods either by d

Contact: Eric Holzmueller
University of Florida

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