Eastern white pine is a crucial ecological and economic component of forests in the northern USA and eastern Canada, and is now facing an emerging problem in white pine needle damage (WPND). It is still unclear whether WPND results from one, or the combination of several fungal pathogens. Therefore, the first objective of this study was to characterize the fungi associated with WPND in the northeastern United States and document the damage being done to mature eastern white pine as a result of repeated defoliation. To date, 22 species of fungi, either cultured from diseased pine needles or formed fruiting bodies on pine needles were identified based on morphology and sequence data. Lecanosticta acicola
and a putative new species of Septorioides
were the species most frequently recovered from diseased needles, in addition to needle cast fungi Lophophacidium dooksii
and Bifusella linearis
, two obligate fungal pathogens that were frequently observed on pine needles in the northeast, but have not been known to cause excessive defoliation of eastern white pine. A second objective was to monitor yearly the health of 63 pairs of healthy and unhealthy trees in eight affected locations throughout New England. Since 2012, affected trees are increasingly and repeatedly chlorotic and defoliated every year. Trees that were initially healthy are now exhibiting symptoms. While L. acicola
appears to be the primary pathogen causing WPND, several other common needle pathogens are being more frequently observed and the role of climate change may be important in the disease ecology of WPND. These defoliation events, while once a sporadic occurrence, have now become more frequent as observed in continued crown deterioration of eastern white pine in long-term monitoring plots followed during the course of this three-year study.
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