Effects of Individual, Community and Landscape Drivers on the Dynamics of a Wildland Forest Epidemic

Author , , , , ,
Date In press
Publication Ecology
Key Words
AbstractThe challenges posed by observing host-pathogen-environment interactions across large geographic extents and over meaningful time scales limit our ability to understand and manage wildland epidemics. We conducted a landscape-scale, longitudinal study designed to analyze the dynamics of sudden oak death (an emerging forest disease caused by Phytophthora ramorum) across hierarchical levels of ecological interactions, from individual hosts up to the community and across the broader landscape. From 2004-11, we annually assessed disease status of 732 coast live oak, 271 black oak and 122 canyon live oak trees in 202 plots across a 275 km2 landscape in central California. The number of infected oak stems steadily increased during the eight-year study period. A survival analysis modeling framework was used to examine which level of ecological heterogeneity best predicted infection risk of susceptible oak species, considering variability at the level of individuals (species identity, stem size), the community (host density, inoculum load, and species richness), and the landscape (seasonal climate variability, habitat connectivity, and topographic gradients). After accounting for unobserved risk shared among oaks in the same plot, survival models that incorporated heterogeneity across all three levels better predicted oak infection than did models focusing on only one level. We show that larger individuals of oaks (especially coast live oak) were more susceptible, and that interannual variability in inoculum production by the highly-infectious reservoir host, California bay laurel, had a stronger influence on disease risk than simply the density of this important host. Concurrently, warmer and wetter rainy-season conditions in consecutive years intensified infection risk, presumably by creating a longer period of inoculum build-up and increased probability of pathogen spillover from bay laurel to oaks. Despite the presence of many alternate host species, we found evidence of pathogen dilution, where less competent hosts in species-rich communities reduce pathogen transmission and overall risk of infection to oaks. These results identify key parameters driving the dynamics of emerging infectious disease in California woodlands, while demonstrating how multiple levels of ecological heterogeneity jointly determine epidemic trajectories in wildland settings.
Full Citation Haas, S.E.; Cushman, J.H.; Dillon, W.W.; Rank, N.E.; Rizzo, D.M.; and Meentemeyer, R.K. In press. Effects of Individual, Community and Landscape Drivers on the Dynamics of a Wildland Forest Epidemic. Ecology. http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/15-0767.1