Researchers Create Map to Track Sudden Oak Death Pathogen Across State

Photo: Researchers have created a map to help monitor the spread of sudden oak death in oak trees, such as this one near Faculty Glade.
Michael Restrepo/Staff
Researchers have created a map to help monitor the spread of sudden oak death in oak trees, such as this one near Faculty Glade.

View the Map of the Sudden Oak Death Pathogen Here »

Map of Sudden Oak Death Occurrences

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Correction Appended

Researchers at UC Berkeley completed a map Monday that tracks the pathogen that causes sudden oak death throughout California, making it easier for scientists as well as community members to follow the destructive pathogen as it travels through the Bay Area.

UC Berkeley forest pathologist Matteo Garbelotto led the three-year project to produce the now-online accessible map that shows exact points in the area where the sudden oak death pathogen - which has killed millions of oak trees in California since it was most likely introduced in the Santa Cruz about 20 years ago - has been discovered.

Over the past three years, Garbelotto and his team trained and assembled groups of average citizens from many Bay Area counties to contribute to the research in groups called "SOD-Blitzes." These groups collected leaves from bay and oak trees to be tested in Garbelotto's lab for the sudden oak death microbe.

Data for the map was compiled by these "citizen scientists," including Woodside Conservation and Environmental Health Committee member Debbie Mendelson, who said she wanted to get involved after seeing "dead brown tree after dead brown tree" in her hometown.

Sue Welch, a community contributor to the study from Los Altos Hills, said she recently lost five large oaks from her yard to the disease. Nearby her home, an additional 50 trees have been removed most likely due to infection by the pathogen.

"It's just been really devastating," she said.

Garbelotto said the pathogen has been found "creeping into the UC Berkeley campus area."

"We've found it on a couple trees on UC Berkeley property," Garbelotto said.

The infected trees were two bay laurels discovered near the Fire Trail, he said.

The map allows residents to see whether they are within a 50,000-yard range of an infected plant so they can take preventative measures, such as spraying the base of their trees with Agrifos to boost the immunity of the oak trees to fight the pathogen and resist infection.

Bay laurels are hosts of the pathogen, and often after the spores of laurel leaves become infected, the pathogen becomes airborne and makes its way to oak trees, mainly affecting tan oak trees due to their low resistance to the pathogen. Once the pathogen reaches an oak tree, it will infect the host's stem, but Richard Dodd, campus professor of forestry, genetics and systematics, said once the host is infected, death is not immediate.

"The disease is called sudden death, but actually it's not so sudden," Dodd said. "It takes a while."

According to associate specialist with the campus Center for Forestry Brice McPherson, an infected oak can live for 11 years, unless beetles attack the tree, which would then bring its life expectancy down to three years after infection.

Garbelotto said one option UC Berkeley has employed to protect the bay trees on campus is to cut down infected bay laurels in order to prevent the spread of the pathogen to large oaks.

One infected laurel was cut down in 2001 in order to protect the oak trees on campus, yet McPherson said this may not be the best idea for protecting the plants around UC Berkeley.

"Be wary of an approach that recommends removing one native species to protect another plant species," he said.


Correction: Wednesday, October 6, 2010
A previous version of this article stated that Brice McPherson was a project contributor. In fact, he did not contribute to the mapping project.

The Daily Californian regrets the error.

Contact Katie Bender at [email protected]

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