Almanac

News - November 3, 2010

Sudden oak death update: disease spreads to Atherton

by Dave Boyce

An important follow-up visit by scientists investigating sudden oak death in Woodside, Portola Valley — and now parts of Atherton — is taking place at 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 8, in the community in Portola Valley at 765 Portola Road.

The expected speakers are Matteo Garbelotto, chief scientist at the Forest Pathology and Mycology Laboratory at the University of California at Berkeley; and Janet Santos Cobb, the executive officer of California Oaks, a project of the nonprofit California Wildlife Foundation.

Those who attend the Nov. 8 presentation will be eligible to participate in a bulk order of chemical treatments for affected trees. For more information, contact Portola Valley Planning Manager Leslie Lambert at 851-1700, extension 212.

Go to is.gd/gp0au (case sensitive) to check the laboratory's website.

Now in Atherton

In the sampling done by volunteers in the three towns earlier this year, the results tested positive for 28 percent of Woodside samples, 25 percent of Atherton samples, and 10 percent of Portola Valley samples, according to data from the lab's website.

The Atherton infections happened in the last two or three years, Mr. Garbelotto said in a recent interview over the telephone. "All the evidence suggests that it wasn't there before that." he said.

Peninsula communities are valuable in this scientifically exacting and prolonged effort to understand the nature of this disease and are willing to come back year after year with more samples, Mr. Garbelotto said. "They understand that the distribution changes." he said. "People really learn. They become really good surveyors."

Progress is slow

Scientists have only recently understood the pathogen's basic biology, he said. They also know that the ideal condition for its spread is warm weather after a rain.

Scientists are working on finding answers to the questions of what happens to it when the weather is dry, why it exits dormancy so rapidly, and how its processes may be interrupted, such as by intense light.

"Some experiments will take year and years," maybe 10 years, Mr. Garbelotto said. "It's not easy. (We) actually don't have a system to get funding for 10 years. There's always the risk of 'No more for you.'"

The task in typical field work now: find volunteers to fill 200 buckets with four gallons of water each; count the sporangia, if any, in the water; collect five uninfected bay leaves for each bucket; leave the buckets and leaves at 200 separate locations in 200 to 300 acres of woodland; check the leaves after two weeks for spots indicating infection; change the water and the leaves; start all over again, and again, and again.

"We are changing the scale (of the investigation)," Mr. Garbelotto said. "We could never do it as a research unit from Berkeley. The volunteers know the areas so they know where to look. There is a great synergy that's generated."

The volunteer response in June in Woodside of around 70 people "was the biggest surprise of my scientific career," Mr. Garbelotto said. "I really think the Peninsula is leading the way in doing this the right way."

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