Increasing Threat: The Rise of New Tree Diseases Worldwide

by Santiago Fernandez
tree diseases

Recent studies indicate a rise in tree diseases globally, especially affecting pines, oaks, and eucalypts. Researchers, including Andrew V. Gougherty, point to climate change as a factor exacerbating this issue, threatening tree populations and ecosystems on a global scale.

Tree diseases are a major factor in tree mortality, both in forests and urban settings. The introduction of new diseases and the ability of pathogens to infect different tree species heighten the risks. New diseases affecting previously unimpacted tree species can lead to significant mortality and endanger the trees’ natural habitats.

Historical and Current Effects of Tree Diseases

While not all tree diseases result in death, they can severely impact populations. In North America, the chestnut blight in the 20th century virtually eradicated chestnut trees from their native Appalachian range. Other examples include sudden oak death in California, ash dieback in Europe, and butternut canker in Eastern USA, each potentially capable of decimating their host tree populations and altering local ecosystems.

Dr. Andrew Gougherty, a research landscape ecologist at the USDA Forest Service, stresses the increasing emergence of new diseases and their potential harm to tree populations. His recent work focuses on identifying the fastest accumulating tree diseases and the most affected species, aiming to help predict and manage future outbreaks.

Example of Tar Spot on Maple in Frostburg, MD, USA. Credit: Andrew V. Gougherty

In-Depth Analysis of Tree Diseases

A recent study in the journal NeoBiota examined over 900 new disease cases across 284 tree species in 88 countries. It analyzed the geographic and host-specific accumulation of these emerging infectious diseases. The study’s “big data” methodology highlights the escalating threat of these diseases and their unequal regional and host-specific distribution.

Example of Powdery Mildew on Maple in Vancouver, BC, CAN. Credit: Andrew V. Gougherty

Observations and Global Patterns

Dr. Gougherty’s research shows a rapid global increase in emerging tree diseases over the past 20 years, affecting both native and non-native tree species. He found that new disease occurrences globally double approximately every 11 years. Pines, oaks, and eucalypts are the most affected, likely due to their broad distribution and the widespread planting of pine forests. Europe leads in total new disease accumulation, with North America and Asia close behind.

The study also notes more emerging diseases in regions where tree species are native, except in Latin America and the Caribbean. This is attributed to most assessed trees being non-native to these areas.

Dr. Gougherty warns of the unceasing increase in emerging tree diseases and their potential ongoing impact. He highlights the role of climate change in creating favorable conditions for pathogens and stressing host plants, further exacerbating the situation.

Reference: “Emerging tree diseases are accumulating rapidly in the native and non-native ranges of Holarctic trees” by Andrew V. Gougherty, published on 4 September 2023, in NeoBiota.
DOI: 10.3897/neobiota.87.103525

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about tree diseases

What is the primary focus of the recent study on tree diseases?

The study focuses on the global increase in tree diseases, particularly affecting species like pines, oaks, and eucalypts, and examines the potential link between climate change and this rise.

How are new tree diseases impacting ecosystems?

New tree diseases contribute significantly to tree deaths, which can lead to unprecedented levels of mortality in forests and urban landscapes, thereby posing a threat to native habitats and ecosystems.

What historical tree diseases have had significant impacts?

Historical diseases like chestnut blight in North America, sudden oak death in California, ash dieback in Europe, and butternut canker in the eastern US have dramatically affected host populations and ecosystems.

What did Dr. Andrew Gougherty’s research reveal about tree diseases?

Dr. Gougherty’s research found a rapid increase in emerging tree diseases globally, with the most significant impacts on pines, oaks, and eucalypts, and a potential link to climate change exacerbating the situation.

What regions are most affected by new tree diseases?

Europe has the greatest total accumulation of new tree diseases, followed closely by North America and Asia, according to Dr. Gougherty’s findings.

What role does climate change play in tree diseases?

Climate change likely contributes to the spread and severity of tree diseases by creating more favorable conditions for pathogens and by stressing host plants, increasing their vulnerability.

More about tree diseases

  • Global Tree Disease Rise and Climate Change
  • Impact of New Tree Diseases on Ecosystems
  • Historical Tree Diseases and Their Effects
  • Dr. Andrew Gougherty’s Tree Disease Research
  • Regional Impacts of Emerging Tree Diseases
  • Climate Change and Tree Health Vulnerability

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Jess Brown November 19, 2023 - 12:20 pm

this is scary stuff, those poor trees… and the ecosystems depend on them so much! we need to take better care of our planet, ASAP.

Markus77 November 19, 2023 - 3:29 pm

so europe’s getting hit hardest with tree diseases? that’s news to me. Thought it was a global issue, but seems some places are worse off.

Dave Miller November 19, 2023 - 4:11 pm

wow, didn’t realize how bad the situation with tree diseases is getting, climate change really is messing up a lot more than just the weather huh?

nature_lover November 20, 2023 - 4:15 am

sudden oak death, chestnut blight, it’s like a horror movie for trees… so sad. we need more awareness about this, people just don’t know enough.


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