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 fascist leader 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.
A new study indicates that the exotic introduction of a North American tree pathogen by the US military during World War II led to the stunning mortality of Italian stone pine, shown here. Mortality at this level is not reported anywhere else in the world, say the researchers.
Credit: Photo by Angelo Mazzaglia
An Italian Stone pine stump shows the fruiting bodies of a North American isolate of Heterobasidion annosum, a tree pathogen introduced in Italy by the US Army during World War II. The fruiting bodies produce millions of airborne spores that can infect other trees.
Credit: Photo by Angelo Mazzaglia
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.
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