Campus: Sonoma State University -- September 18, 2002

SSU Garners $810,657 Grant To Predict Spread Of Sudden Oak Death With Geographic Modeling, Satellite Systems

The National Science Foundation has awarded an $810,657 grant to Sonoma State University and UC Davis researchers to use a geographic modeling system to track and predict the spread of Sudden Oak Death, a plant disease that has reached epidemic levels in the coastal ranges of California.

This multidisciplinary research grant from the NSF will allow geographers and biologists at Sonoma State University and UC Davis to collaboratively study the critical factors in the environment and host species that contribute to the spread of Phytophthora ramorum, the fungus known to be the cause of the disease.

Leading the effort is Dr. Ross Meentemeyer, director of the university's Geographic Information Systems lab. He will be assisted by SSU biology professors, Drs. Hall Cushman, Nathan Rank and Richard Whitkus and plant pathologist Dr. David Rizzo of UC-Davis.

The grant will be paid in increments over the next four years.

The researchers will be using geographic modeling and remote sensing technologies, in combination with fieldwork and DNA lab analysis, to characterize spatial patterns of disease factors including the genetic background of host species; plant community structure; and environmental controls.

This data is being integrated in a computer simulation model to forecast changes in the distribution of the disease across Sonoma County's landscape. Model predictions will identify critical factors that influence the distribution of SOD and provide predictions of habitat loss from disease.

The computer model will also help develop management strategies for susceptible forests and test regulations designed to prevent long distance spread of the pathogen, a threat that could drastically alter woodlands and forests in California and elsewhere in the USA.

The grant will also allow fostering of participation of undergraduates in cross-disciplinary research and integrate the research into the curriculum of core courses in the biology and geography departments at the SSU.

Sudden Oak Death is spreading rapidly, much like the Chestnut Blight in eastern North America during the early 20th century, and has the potential of completely changing the face of our treasured California landscapes, Meentmemeyer says.

"Although great progress has been made in understanding the basic biology of the pathogen, very little is known on how the pathogen is spreading so quickly and which areas are at greatest risk of infection."

Seventeen plant species are known to be susceptible to the disease, several of which are keystone species of California ecosystems, such as Coast Live Oak, Black Oak, Tanoak, and Bay Laurel. Evidence of the disease has now also been found in Douglas Fir saplings at the SSU's Fairfield Osborn Preserve and among redwoods in other parts of the region.

For further information, contact Dr. Ross Meentemeyer, (707) 664-2558

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