Over the past decade, millions of trees in California and Oregon forests have been attacked by an exotic pathogen, Phytophthora ramorum, causal agent of the infectious forest disease known as sudden oak death. This destructive outbreak is occurring in redwood and oak woodland communities in the same places that have also recently experienced devastating wildfires and extreme droughts. This research will use a novel combination of molecular, greenhouse, field, and computational modeling techniques to understand how disturbances created by wildfire, drought, and infectious disease interact and impact forest ecosystems. Results are expected to illuminate how wildfire affects the persistence and spread of an invasive pathogen, how biodiversity impacts emergence of disease in disturbed vs. undisturbed plant communities, and how these interacting disturbances alter nutrient cycling in forest ecosystems.
The combined research on the ecology of infectious disease, wildfire and drought will help develop best management practices for the growing number of forested landscapes around the world that are being impacted by complex, interacting disturbances. Outreach to stakeholders will be implemented through two highly effective organizations - University of California Cooperative Extension and the California Oak Mortality Task Force. The investigators will also be actively involved with advising state, federal and International regulatory committees put in place to create policy for managing sudden oak death and other forest diseases.