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Landscape epidemiology and control of pathogens with cryptic and long-distance dispersal: sudden oak death in northern Californian forests.


Exotic pathogens and pests threaten ecosystem service, biodiversity, and crop security globally. If an invasive agent can disperse asymptomatically over long distances, multiple spatial and temporal scales interplay, making identification of effective strategies to regulate, monitor, and control disease extremely difficult. The management of outbreaks is also challenged by limited data on the actual area infested and the dynamics of spatial spread, due to financial, technological, or social constraints. We examine principles of landscape epidemiology important in designing policy to prevent or slow invasion by such organisms, and use Phytophthora ramorum, the cause of sudden oak death, to illustrate how shortfalls in their understanding can render management applications inappropriate. This pathogen has invaded forests in coastal California, USA, and an isolated but fast-growing epidemic focus in northern California (Humboldt County) has the potential for extensive spread. The risk of spread is enhanced by the pathogen's generalist nature and survival. Additionally, the extent of cryptic infection is unknown due to limited surveying resources and access to private land. Here, we use an epidemiological model for transmission in heterogeneous landscapes and Bayesian Markov-chain-Monte-Carlo inference to estimate dispersal and life-cycle parameters of P. ramorum and forecast the distribution of infection and speed of the epidemic front in Humboldt County. We assess the viability of management options for containing the pathogen's northern spread and local impacts. Implementing a stand-alone host-free "barrier" had limited efficacy due to long-distance dispersal, but combining curative with preventive treatments ahead of the front reduced local damage and contained spread. While the large size of this focus makes effective control expensive, early synchronous treatment in newly-identified disease foci should be more cost-effective. We show how the successful management of forest ecosystems depends on estimating the spatial scales of invasion and treatment of pathogens and pests with cryptic long-distance dispersal.

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