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Open-File Report 2014-1225

Ecological Implications of Laurel Wilt Infestation on Everglades Tree Islands, Southern Florida

By James R. Snyder

Introduction

There is a long history of introduced pests attacking native forest trees in the United States (Liebhold and others, 1995; Aukema and others, 2010). Well-known examples include chestnut blight that decimated the American chestnut (Castanea dentata), an extremely important tree in the eastern United States, both as a food source for wildlife and humans and for the wood; Dutch elm disease that attacks native elms (Ulmus spp.), including those commonly planted as shade trees along city streets; and the balsam wooly adelgid (Adelges piceae), an insect that is destroying Fraser firs (Abies fraseri) in higher elevations of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Laurel wilt, a fungal disease transmitted by the redbay ambrosia beetle (Xyleborus glabratus), is a 21st-century example of an introduced forest pest that attacks native tree species in the laurel family (Lauraceae) (Mayfield, 2007; Hulcr and Dunn, 2011).

The introduction of laurel wilt disease has been traced to the arrival of an Asian ambrosia beetle (Xyleborus glabratus) at Port Wentworth, Georgia, near Savannah, in 2002, apparently accidently introduced in wooden shipping material (Mayfield, 2007). Within the next 2 years, it was determined that the non-native wood-boring insect was the vector of an undescribed species of fungus, responsible for killing large numbers of red bay (Persea borbonia) trees in the surrounding area. Dispersing female redbay ambrosia beetles drill into live trees and create tunnels in the wood. They carry with them fungal spores in specialized organs called mycangia at the base of each mandible and sow the spores in the tunnels they excavate. The fungus, since named Raffaelea lauricola (Harrington and others, 2008), is the food source for adults and larvae. The introduction of Raffaelea lauricola causes the host plant to react in such a way as to block the vascular tissue, resulting in loss of water conduction, wilt, and death (Kendra and others, 2013).

Although first seen in red bay, laurel wilt disease also kills other native trees that are members of the laurel family, including swamp bay (Persea palustris), silk bay (Persea borbonia var. humilis), and sassafras (Sassafras albidum), as well as the economically important cultivated avocado (Persea americana) (Fraedrich and others, 2008). This paper is concerned primarily with swamp bay, an important component of Everglades tree islands.

The spread of the redbay ambrosia beetle and its fungal symbiont has been very rapid, exceeding model predictions (Koch and Smith, 2008); by 2011, laurel wilt disease was found from the southern coastal plain of North Carolina to southern peninsular Florida. The first redbay ambrosia beetle was trapped in Miami-Dade County in March 2010, and laurel wilt disease was discovered in swamp bays in February 2011 and in commercial avocado groves about a year later (Kendra and others, 2013). By 2013, laurel wilt disease was seen in swamp bays throughout the southern Everglades in Everglades National Park, Big Cypress National Preserve, and Water Conservation Areas (WCAs) 3A and 3B (Rodgers and others, 2014).

First posted November 5, 2014

For additional information, contact:
U.S. Geological Survey
Southeast Ecological Science Center
7920 NW 71st Street
Gainesville, FL 32653
352-378-8181
http://fl.biology.usgs.gov/

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Suggested citation:

Snyder, J.R., Ecological implications of Laurel Wilt infestation on Everglades Tree Islands, southern Florida: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2014-1225, 18 p., https://dx.doi.org/10.3133/ofr20141225.

ISSN 2331-1258 (online)



Contents

Introduction

Swamp Bay

Everglades Tree Islands

Effects of Laurel Wilt Disease on Native Vegetation

Prognosis for Swamp Bay and Everglades Tree Islands

Acknowledgments

References Cited

Photographs


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