The newly discovered disease, Sudden Oak Death (SOD), is quickly gaining a reputation, and its not a good one. SOD is tenacious and lethal, using as many as 26 different plants as hosts and spreading in ways scientists dont completely understand. Now, recent research suggests that SOD is capable of using an even greater number of host plants than previously thought. While this is not necessarily good news, it does help shed light on why SOD has been so quick to spread.
"SOD is deadly for oaks and its impacting many other species as well," states Matteo Garbelotto, an extension forest pathologist and adjunct professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and a leading researcher on SOD. Not long after the isolation of the microbe causing SOD by U. C. Davis Professor Dave Rizzo in 2000, plant pathologists began to suspect that while oaks were the direct victims of the disease, other plants were involved in spreading it. Plants from the rhododendron family were among the first host plants identified. "What we hypothesized and what were now confirming," says Garbelotto, "is that SOD is not spreading via the oaks, but is instead using a huge range of native plants for reproduction."
In fact, research by Garbelotto and Rizzo indicates that nearly all of the main tree species in Californias forests, as well as forest shrubbery and undergrowth, may act as hosts for SOD. SOD appears to use the leaves, branches and stems of these plants to reproduce, resulting in lesions and leaf discoloration. It doesnt kill the host plant outright, but scientists say repeated SOD infections are likely to weaken the plant over time, negatively impacting its growth and making it susceptible to other diseases and insects.
Cindy Ash | EurekAlert!
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