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Fungus & Beetle Duo Threaten Florida Avocado Crop, Everglades Trees

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Stephen Ausmus
/
USDA
"A cross section of a swampbay tree trunk shows the redbay ambrosia beetle’s galleries (white lines) that are filled with the fungus Raffaelea lauricola on May 22, 2012, the cause of laurel wilt disease," via the U.S. Department of Agriculture.";

A fungus spread by an invasive beetle species has destroyed 500 million trees since it first arrived in North America 15 years ago. The fungus that causes laurel wilt disease, spread by  the redbay ambrosia beetle, threatens South Florida's avocado crop and the countless trees that call the Everglades home.

The fungus and beetle combo threatens not only Florida's estimated $25 million annual avocado crop, but its presence in 61 of 67 Florida counties could have potentially devastating impacts on swamp bay trees in the Everglades, as well other tree species vital to healthy Florida ecosystems. 

Forest pathologist Dr. Jason Smith, an associate professor at the University of Florida's IFAS School of Forest Resources, led a new study looking at the genetic diversity of the pathogen and the beetle that spread laurel wilt disease to otherwise healthy trees. Smith shares the results of that study, and how an overreaction on the part of trees to the fungal spores is what ultimately causes otherwise healthy trees to die. He'll also share some encouraging findings from trees that were able to resist the pathogen and remain healthy.

Matthew Smith is a reporter and producer of WGCU’s Gulf Coast Live.