Source or sink? The role of soil and water borne inoculum in the dispersal of Phytophthora ramorum in Oregon tanoak forests

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Forest Ecology and Management, Volume 322, p.48 - 57 (2014)



Management of invasive species requires confidence in the detection methods used to assess expanding distributions, as well as an understanding of the dominant modes of spread. Lacking this basic biological information, during early stages of invasion management choices are often driven by available resources and the biology of closely related species. Such has been the case for the management of the phytopathogen, Phytophthora ramorum, causal agent of sudden oak death (SOD) of oaks and tanoaks. To detect P. ramorum, The Oregon SOD eradication program has relied upon the aerial observation of dead, overstory tanoak (Notholithocarpus densiflorus), an easily infected host widely distributed throughout the range of P. ramorum in Oregon. At risk is the possibility of misrepresenting the distribution of SOD, particularly if inoculum is predominately moved in soil and water, common dispersal pathways for other Phytophthora spp. To assess this risk, we performed surveys of understory vegetation in areas with a high risk of establishment of understory infection from soil and water sources: along roadsides within heavily trafficked areas with a history of SOD, and along streams known to contain P. ramorum inoculum. Additionally, we tested the alternative hypothesis of aerial dispersal, whereby infection in the understory would be spatially correlated with overstory mortality. Consistent with prior studies into the spatial structure of P. ramorum in Oregon, we found no evidence of understory infection in close proximity to roads in the absence of overstory mortality. Similarly, P. ramorum was only isolated from understory vegetation associated with streams when within close proximity to overstory sources, and more commonly further away from stream edges than within the splash and flood line. Both disease patterns are inconsistent with a dominate soil and water mediated dispersal mechanism. Rather, we found evidence supporting our alternative hypothesis of aerial dispersal whereby recovery of P. ramorum in the understory declined with increasing distance from the only known overstory source. These results support the use of aerial detection in describing the distribution of SOD in Oregon, and give further support to dispersal of inoculum in blowing fog or rain at scales not yet described for other forest Phytophthora species.