There is a new threat to the Florida Everglades are if something is not done soon, most of the trees of the Everglades will cease to exist. Everything from climate change to polluted waters, to pythons, there’s seems to always be something threatening the beauty and ecological balance of the Everglades ecosystem. The latest threat is a fungus, and it’s killing trees at an amazing rate.
“Laurel Wilt is one of the most devastating tree diseases we’ve seen, it’s incredibly fast moving,” said Jason Smith, a University of Florida scientist who is studying the scourge. “It kills trees within a couple of weeks, and within three to four years, all the trees larger than three inches in diameter are dead in a forest."
It is estimated that this rare invasive fungus, native to Asia, has already killed over 500,000 trees since 2002. The fungus is actually the byproduct of an Asian beetle. Once infected, trees are usually dead within three weeks of infection! The menacing beetle is named the ambrosia beetle, Xyleborus glabratus.
Beginning in 2003, scientists began receiving reports of dying red bay trees (Persea borbonia ) in coastal areas of Georgia and South Carolina (J. Johnson, Georgia Forestry Commission, pers. comm. 4 April 2005), then in northeast Florida (J. Foltz, University of Florida, pers. comm. November 2005). The cause was determined to be a previously unknown fungus, Raffaelea lauricola) transported (vectored) by a recently introduced ambrosia beetle from Asia, Xyleborus glabratus (Fraedrich et al. 2008). The beetle had first been detected in the United States in 2002 near Savannah, Georgia (Rabaglia et al. 2006).
The disease has since spread rapidly. It now is found in 8 states, reaching from eastern North Carolina south along most of the Florida peninsula; and several locations in Alabama and Mississippi (Mayfield et al. 2013; Riggins et al. 2010); with isolated outbreaks in Louisiana and Texas.