UF/IFAS-Developed $50 Device May Help Multibillion Forest Industry

Dan Florida, Forestry, Industry News Release, Research

By developing a simple, $50 trap, University of Florida scientists can gather spores from a pathogen of pine trees and hopefully help prevent diseases from causing more harm to the multibillion-a-year forest industry.


A timber yard and mill with uncut pine logs.

Millions of pine trees dot the southern landscape, and they’re susceptible to many diseases, including pitch canker, said Tania Quesada, an assistant research scientist with the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Florida’s forest industry generated $12.55 billion in direct sales revenues in 2016, according to a UF/IFAS economic report released last year. Pines account for more than 90 percent of timber volume, and by extension, that share of the economic contributions to the Florida forest industry, said Alan Hodges, a UF/IFAS Extension scientist in food and resource economics.

Private tree owners would like to protect their product. Now, they can collect spores from areas near their pine trees, said Quesada, a researcher in the UF/IFAS School of Forest Resources and Conservation. While the UF/IFAS device lets tree owners collect specimens, they’ll still need a scientist to find out if the pathogen is around in high enough amounts to pose a threat to their trees, Quesada said.

“We are aiming to develop a more user-friendly trap that would not require a lab or molecular biology techniques,” Quesada said. Such a system would require more research, she said.

Quesada led a newly published study in which researchers used the inexpensive traps to gather airborne spores from pine forests near Gainesville, Florida, to see if they were infected with pitch canker. Though they conducted their research near Gainesville, researchers say their findings are applicable globally. Slash and loblolly pines are found in much of the southeast as well parts of New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, Washington and Oregon, according to a UF/IFAS Extension document.

For the study, UF/IFAS researchers put the traps in areas where slash and loblolly pines were infected with pitch canker. Then they examined DNA from the spore samples and found that spore quantities varied through the season and among the sites. They saw a peak of greater spore abundance in late May and early June.

Slash is one of the pine species most susceptible to pitch canker, she said. When the disease strikes seedlings and young trees, it can kill them, but it also can kill grown trees. Because the fungus enters through wounds, pitch canker disease is common after hurricanes and storms.

Pitch canker outbreaks are episodic, and right now, growers are experiencing another outbreak, Quesada said. That’s why they’re looking for more efficient ways to diagnose and control the disease.

“Pitch canker is a serious disease, not only of slash pines, but for most pine species and Douglas firs,” Quesada said. “In the South, it affects mainly loblolly, slash and longleaf pines, which are the most important commercial pine species in this area.”

Although scientists are not trying to commercialize their trap, Quesada said almost anyone can build it and modify it, depending on what questions they would like to answer, as the parts are easy to purchase and assemble.

“The device can be used for school science-fair projects, farmers, or scientists in low-income countries who want to survey small things like pollen, fungal spores and small insects,” Quesada said. “It is also being used by collaborators in Tennessee to quantify an insect that transmits a devastating viral disease of roses known as rose rosette. By monitoring these insects in nurseries, our trap is becoming vital to early detection and management of this disease as well.”

The UF/IFAS-led study is published in the journal Forests.

Source: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences