Microclimate impacts survival and prevalence of Phytophthora ramorum in Umbellularia californica, a key reservoir host of sudden oak death in northern California forests.
Phytophthora ramorum, an invasive pathogen and the causal agent of Sudden Oak Death, has become established in mixed-evergreen and redwood forests in coastal northern California. While oak and tanoak mortality is the most visible indication of P. ramorum's presence, epidemics are largely driven by the presence of bay laurel (Umbellularia californica), a reservoir host that supports both prolific sporulation in the winter wet season and survival during the summer dry season. In order to better understand how over-summer survival of the pathogen contributes to variability in the severity of annual epidemics, we monitored the viability of P. ramorum leaf infections over three years along with coincident microclimate. The proportion of symptomatic bay laurel leaves that contained viable infections decreased during the first summer dry season and remained low for the following two years, likely due to the absence of conducive wet season weather during the study period. Over-summer survival of P. ramorum was positively correlated with high percent canopy cover, less negative bay leaf water potential and few days exceeding 30°C but was not significantly different between mixed-evergreen and redwood forest ecosystems. Decreased summer survival of P. ramorum in exposed locations and during unusually hot summers likely contributes to the observed spatiotemporal heterogeneity of P. ramorum epidemics.