A fungal symbiont of the redbay ambrosia beetle causes a lethal wilt in redbay and other lauraceae in the Southeastern United States
Extensive mortality of redbay has been observed in the coastal plain counties of Georgia and southeastern South Carolina since 2003 and northeastern Florida since 2005. We show that the redbay mortality is due to a vascular wilt disease caused by an undescribed Raffaelea sp. that is a fungal symbiont of Xyleborus glabratus, an exotic ambrosia beetle. Trees affected by the disease exhibit wilt symptoms that include a black discoloration of the sapwood. Redbay trees and containerized seedlings died within 5 to 12 weeks after inoculation with the Raffaelea sp. When redbay seedlings were challenged with X. glabratus, the beetles tunneled into 96% of the plants, 70% died, and the Raffaelea sp. was recovered from 91%. X. glabratus and the Raffaelea sp. have also been associated with mortality of sassafras, and the Raffaelea sp. has been isolated from wilted pondberry and pondspice. Additional inoculation studies have shown that the Raffaelea sp. is pathogenic to sassafras, spicebush, and avocado, but not to red maple. Female adults of X. glabratus have paired mycangia near the mandibles, and the Raffaelea sp. is routinely isolated from the heads of beetles. The fungus is apparently introduced into healthy redbay during beetle attacks on stems and branches. The wilt currently affecting redbay and sassafras represents a major threat to other members of the Lauraceae indigenous to the Americas, including avocado in commercial production.