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Laurel Wilt Disease: Early Detection through Canine Olfaction and "Omics" Insights into Disease Progression

By Julian L. Mendel

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Laurel wilt disease is a vascular wilt affecting the xylem and water conductivity in trees belonging to the family Lauraceae. The disease was introduced by an invasive species of ambrosia beetle, Xyleborus glabratus. The beetle, together with its newly described fungal symbiont Raffaelea lauricola (pathogenic to host trees)has lead to the devastation and destruction of over 300 million wild redbay trees in southeastern forests. Ambrosia beetles make up a very unique clade of beetle and share a co-evolved obligatory mutualistic relationship with their partner fungi. Rather than consuming host tree material, the beetles excavate galleries or canals within them. These galleries serve two purposes: reproduction and fungal gardening. The beetles house fungal spores within specialized sacs, mycangia, and essentially inoculate host trees with the pathogenic agent. They actively grow and cultivate gardens of the fungus in galleries to serve as their sole food source. Once the fungus reaches the xylem vessels of the host tree, it thrives and leads to the blockage of water flow, both because of fungal accumulation and to the host response of secreting gels, gums and tyloses to occlude vessels in an attempt to quarantine the fungus.

This disease spreads rapidly, and as a result, once symptoms become visible to the naked eye, it is already too late to save the tree, and it has likely already spread to adjacent ones. The present study presents the first documented study involving the early detection of disease from deep within a tree through the use of scent-discriminating canines. In addition, the present study has lead to the development of a novel sample collection device enabling the non-destructive sampling of beetle galleries. Finally, a metabolomics approach revealed key biochemical pathway modifications in the disease state, as well as potential clues to disease development.


Marcy Wilhelm-South

Purdue University

Date 2017
Pages 133
Department Biology
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
DOI 10.25148/etd.FIDC001920
Language English
University Florida International University
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal roles
  2. Canine scent detection
  3. olfaction
  4. open access
  5. Plants
  1. open access