Dr Richard O’Hanlon (Plant Pathologist in AFBI’s Grassland and Plant Science Branch) presented his work on Phytophthora diversity in trade and non-trade habitats in Ireland at the IUFRO (International Union of Forest Research Organizations) conference on Phytophthora in Forests and Natural Ecosystems in SaPa, Vietnam.
This was the largest meeting of plant pathologists specialising in Phytophthora worldwide (85 presentations were given over 4 days). The genus Phytophthora contains many of the most threatening plant pathogens, including the Northern Ireland relevant species causing potato late blight (P. infestans), sudden larch death (P. ramorum) and Lawson cypress root rot (P. lateralis).
Dr O’Hanlon presented on work from a recently published study in the scientific journal EPPO Bulletin. Working with colleagues from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine Ireland, he analysed more that 11,000 samples across 12 years to find more than 19 species of Phytophthora from a range of locations/land uses. Many of these species are currently causing significant damage to plant health in Ireland and Northern Ireland, while others could potentially cause large scale epidemics under future climate or land use change scenarios.
Another important finding of the work was that there were similarities between the Phytophthora species being detected in plants in trade and plants in the wider environment. This highlights the role of the plant trade in woody plants (especially Rhododendron) in spreading Phytophthora pathogens nationally and internationally.
Protecting Northern Ireland’s plant health from Phytophthora, and other pathogens is paramount. The monetary costs from crop losses and costs of control efforts from these pathogens are very large. Furthermore, the non-monetary costs (e.g. environmental and social costs) of these species are not well understood, but are also probably very large. AFBI scientists, led by Dr Richard O’Hanlon are currently monitoring the diversity and distribution of Phytophthora pathogens in Northern Irish forest habitats with a view to understanding the epidemiology and methods for the control of these damaging tree pathogens.
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