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Model predicts spread of harmful plant pathogen around the globe

The newly developed model suggests climate conditions in China, Laos, Thailand and southern Sweden are conducive to the spread of the deadly plant disease.

By Brooks Hays
New research suggests a deadly plant pathogen that causes root rot is more widespread than previously thought. Photo by Bonita R. Cheshier/Shutterstock
New research suggests a deadly plant pathogen that causes root rot is more widespread than previously thought. Photo by Bonita R. Cheshier/Shutterstock

PERTH, Australia, Oct. 18 (UPI) -- The soil-borne plant pathogen Phytophthora cinnamomi causes root rot, triggering devastating diebacks of infected flora.

According to a new study published in the journal Global Change Biology, the pathogen may be more widespread than previously thought.

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A model created by scientists at Murdoch University in Australia suggests the harmful water mold is on the march around the globe, finding its way into the soil at higher elevations than previously thought possible.

Soil samples collected at high elevation in eastern Australia and central Tasmania tested positive for Phytophthora cinnamomi.

Plants are most likely to be infected by the pathogen and develop Phytophthora dieback disease when a dry summer follows a warm, wet winter.

The newly developed model suggests climate conditions in China, Laos, Thailand and southern Sweden are conducive to the spread of Phytophthora cinnamomi. Researchers hope their predictive algorithms can help wildlife officials better protect local flora.

"This will enable preventative measures, such as community education and cleaning stations, as well as thorough sampling, to be implemented," lead researcher Treena Burgess said in a news release. "We hope our mapping will provide the basis for more detailed regional scale modelling to help governments and land owners effectively plan management of the pathogen."

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Though climate change may render much of the currently infected habitat unsuitable for the disease, regions previously protected by the cold may become more susceptible to the pathogen as the climate warms.

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