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Researchers say US military accidentally introduced tree pathogen to Italian estate

Berkeley - During World War II, soldiers from the Fifth U.S. Army set up camp at an exclusive hunting estate in Italy, regrouping between military drives north against German troops and Benito Mussolini. Sixty years later, forest pathologists are pointing to huge gaps of dead trees in the estate as the visible reminders of that brief stay.

In a new study published in the April issue of Mycological Research, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, and in Italy, have unlocked the mystery of how the destructive Heterobasidion annosum pathogen could have spread to the Presidential Estate of Castelporziano, which has been sealed off from the public for centuries.

They were able to trace the origins of the pathogen back to eastern North America, where U.S. troops departed for Europe during World War II. The researchers say the pathogen likely hitched a ride in transport crates, pallets or other military equipment made from untreated lumber from infected trees. It took decades for the pathogen to establish itself, but since symptoms were first noticed in the 1980s, the root fungus has wiped out large swaths of stone pine trees in the Castelporziano estate less than 15 miles southwest of Rome.

"The spread of exotic plant and tree diseases is not new, but this is the first evidence of a pathogen being introduced into a different continent through military activity," said Matteo Garbelotto, an adjunct assistant professor of ecosystem sciences at UC Berkeley's College of Natural Resources and co-author of the study.

"Quarantines and regulations already exist to guard against the introduction of pests and pathogens from lumber brought in through commercial and other sources, but there is no equivalent standard for lumber brought in by the military," said Garbelotto, who is also a UC cooperative extension specialist in forest pathology. "This study suggests that when planning military operations abroad, there is a need, and a re
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Contact: Sarah Yang
scy@pa.urel.berkeley.edu
510-643-7741
University of California - Berkeley
31-Mar-2004


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