Epidemiology, biology and population genetics of oak wilt

Monique Sakalidis, an assistant professor in the MSU Department of Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences, is examining a devastating disease of oak trees known as oak wilt.

Researcher: Monique Sakalidis

Awarded: $40,000
Leveraged: $410,000

The fungal pathogen that causes oak wilt is responsible for the widespread decline of oaks across the United States, including in 24 states and 829 counties. It is particularly devastating to trees in the red oak group, which can succumb to this disease within four weeks of infection. Spread of this disease is rapid and occurs on multiple fronts from root-to-root transmission, insect transmission and sporadic long-range infections due to movement of firewood. Currently, disease management decisions in Michigan are primarily based on research conducted in other states and anecdotal observations. This project is looking at evaluating whether effective molecular methods of detection are available. Researchers are also trying to determine key periods of oak susceptibility to infection, including when those trees are exposed to insect vectors of the disease. Using science-backed data, researchers have confirmed that the high-risk period in Michigan is May and June since overland spread occurs when fungal spore-contaminated beetles feed on tree wounds. This directly effects people involved in activities that may wound trees. This also effects tree care industries such as arborists and landscapers, right-of-way pruning activities, logging activities and campground maintenance. These findings provide private landowners with information on the best time to prune. Researchers are continuing to work with the Michigan State University Plant Diagnostics Lab to improve disease detection.

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