sudden oak death

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How Climate Change Makes Trees Sick

Warmer and wetter weather is good for tree diseases, which is bad news for trees

Susan Frankel/USDA-Forest Service

A patch of tanoak, killed by Sudden Oak Death, in the Los Padres National Forest in Monterey County.

Climate change is likely to wreak havoc on California’s forests. Extreme weather, wildfires and insect outbreaks will all take a toll. Add to those another looming threat: disease. Forest diseases like Sudden Oak Death, which has infected trees in 14 counties in the state, stand to benefit from the effects of climate change, to the detriment, obviously, of the trees.

Trees are big and long-lived. Tree pathogens, mostly fungi and bacteria, are the opposite. They’re mobile, able to blow around on the wind. And they reproduce and evolve rapidly. That’s the crux of the problem, according to Susan Frankel, a plant pathologist with the Forest Service.

“When you look at forest health and the balance between forest trees and the pathogens that attack them, it does seem, given climate change, pathogens get the better end of the deal,” she told me.

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