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US (IN): Fungal, insect-borne diseases threaten several tree species

As leaves begin to change color and fall from trees across the Midwest over the next several weeks, forestry experts are urging Hoosiers to be on the lookout for telltale signs of disease that threaten the vitality of an untold number of trees across the state.

Maladies like the emerald ash borer, Dutch elm disease, and oak wilt disease have been detected in a variety of trees. These diseases can not only damage or destroy majestic trees, but they can also create safety hazards on both public and private property, officials said.

In some cases, the damage has already been done. For example, the emerald ash borer has already moved through most of the state, having been documented in all 92 counties. According to the Indiana Parks Alliance, the tiny, metallic green insect could kill up to 95% of the state’s estimated 300 million ash trees within the next decade. With wood from ash trees being used to manufacture furniture, flooring, cabinets, and baseball bats, the economic loss could be catastrophic – up to $20 billion, according to some estimates.

“It’s prevalent throughout the state,” said Tom Creswell, a clinical engagement professor of botany and plant pathology at Purdue University. “Most of the ash trees that have not been protected with injections have been damaged or are already near death.”

While the threat from the emerald ash borer is confined to ash trees, other diseases pose distinct threats to several other species. Oak wilt disease, for example, affects red and black oak trees and can move quickly through a tree’s canopy, causing it to shed leaves within a matter of weeks. A fungal disease that can be carried by insects, its spread has been markedly more uneven than other infections, making it harder to track.

“It’s a much more spotty distribution,” Creswell said. “There has been some oak wilt in many counties, but it’s a much more uneven pattern.” Regardless of the species of tree, Creswell and his colleagues stressed that it’s important for private property owners, as well as workers in public parks, to be aware of indicators that can provide clues that a tree is in danger.

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