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Phytophthora ramorum in England and Wales: which environmental variables predict county disease incidence?
Phytophthora ramorum is the oomycete pathogen responsible for Sudden Oak Death on the West Coast of the USA and Sudden Larch Death in the British Isles. It also causes twig dieback and leaf blight on a series of ornamental hosts
(e.g. Rhododendron, Viburnum, Pieris and Camellia) commonly grown in plant nurseries, traded by garden centres and cultivated in public and private gardens. The role of the plant trade in the dispersal of P. ramorum has been well documented, but there is a need for regional
analyses of which environmental variables can predict disease expression in the trade and in the wild, so as to be able to better predict the further development of this worldwide plant health issue. In this study, we analyse data on the incidence of P. ramorum (2002–2009,
thus before the reports in Japanese larch plantations) in counties in England and Wales as a function of environmental variables such as temperature and rainfall, controlling for confounding factors such as county area, human population and spatial autocorrelation. While P. ramorum
county incidence in nurseries and retail centres was positively related to county area and human population density, county incidence in gardens and the wild did not show such correlations, declined significantly towards the East and was positively correlated with disease incidence in the
trade. The latter finding, although not conclusively proving causation, suggests a role of the trade in the dispersal of this pathogen across English and Welsh landscapes. Combined together, P. ramorum county incidence in the trade and in the semi‐natural environment increased
with increasing precipitation and with declining latitude. This study shows the importance of environmental variables in shaping regional plant epidemics, but also yields results that are suggestive of a role of people in spreading plant diseases across entire countries.
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