Will all the trees fall? Variable resistance to an introduced forest disease in a highly susceptible host

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Forest Ecology and Management, Volume 261, Number 11, p.1781 - 1791 (2011)




Sudden oak death


Although tanoak (Notholithocarpus densiflorus syn. Lithocarpus densiflorus) is the species most affected by the introduced pathogen Phytophthora ramorum, with demonstrable risk of extirpation, little is known about the origin, range or structuring of the tree’s susceptibility. We examined variation in resistance to P. ramorum using a wound inoculation assay of detached leaves from trees at five geographically separated sites, and a non-wound inoculation assay on twigs from trees at two sites. The structure of variation in resistance was compared to the structure at nine nuclear microsatellite markers. Resistance varied quantitatively, with 23% and 12% of the variation among individuals and populations, respectively. There was a significant correlation between resistance in detached leaves and lesion size in non-wounding twig inoculations. Among-population genetic diversity at nine microsatellite loci was weakly structured but significantly non-zero, with 9.5% of variation among populations. Within-population neutral genetic diversity was a poor predictor of resistance, and estimates of phenotypic distances for resistance were no greater than neutral genetic distances. The limited phenotypic and genetic structure we found indicates that tanoaks at all study sites are susceptible, and there is no evidence of prior selection for disease resistance. We conclude that tanoak populations across the species’ range are at risk, but local disease dynamics will depend on both host genetics and environmental conditions.