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This conference, jointly organized by the Universidad de Cordoba and Universitat Politecnica de Valencia brought together over 120 scientists working on the vast range of Phytophthora‘s that can be found in the natural environment and are a main cause of forest decline throughout the world.
The meeting was divided into 8 sessions covering a diverse range of topics from evolution, invasion and spread, resistance, and management and control. Additional discussion sessions on adaptation and evolution and geographic origin of species caused lively debate! Talks covered a wide range of Phytophthora species with a large number focusing on P. ramorum, causing the death of large numbers of trees in the UK and North America and P. cinnamomi, causing devastation in Spain, Portugal and Australia.
Wednesday involved a field trip to Andalusian Mediterranean forests to see the impacts of Phytophthora cinnamomi on Holm oak and Cork oak and P. megasperma and P. inundata on wild olive. A talk by a local landowner describing how the local dehesa pasture (a traditional Mediterranean agroforest ecosystem) is managed was particularly interesting, with Cork oaks being harvested every 10 years whilst the acorns from both Cork and Holm oaks are eaten by Iberian pigs in order to produce the world famous Iberico ham.
We were also given a demonstration of how trees are being injected with phosphite in order to try and protect uninfected trees from the advancing pathogen. It was encouraging to see how scientists were engaging with farmers and landowners in order to try and control this devastating pathogen.
Treena Burgess (Murdoch University) spoke of how the use of molecular diagnostics has shown Western Australia and South Africa to be hotbeds of Phytophthora diversity. Many new species have been isolated from soil and asymptomatic natural vegetation suggesting these areas may be the origin of many new species. Further work on the biology and epidemiology of these new Phytophthora species is needed to understand the potential impacts should they escape their natural environment.
Thomas Jung (Phytophthora Research and Consultancy) led a thought provoking discussion session on the importance of the nursery pathway for the spread of invasive Phytophthora across Europe. Large scale surveys of European nurseries found nearly 94% to be infested by a total of 40 different species of Phytophthora, however with nurseries in Central and Western Europe regularly applying fungicides, many plants appeared visually healthy.
This problem, along with many Phytophthora‘s being imported as ‘hitch hikers’ on host plants that are resistant to infection, is rendering international plant health inspections useless and leading to a dramatic increase in Phytopthora introductions.
A talk by Ian Colquhoun (Alcoa, Australia) demonstrated how public awareness has proved invaluable in minimising the spread and impact of P. cinnamomi infection in Western Australia. A community based Dieback Working Group produces information for landowners and even gives talks to schoolchildren on the threats to biodiversity ensuring future generations are aware of the importance of protecting native vegetation from diseases.
Social events included an evening trip to the Alcazar fortress where we were dazzled by a water, light and sound show in the beautiful gardens and the conference dinner which was followed by a performance of traditional Spanish flamenco dancing. I also found a little free time in which to visit the most famous tourist attraction in Cordoba – the Mezquita, a beautiful and very distinctive mosque.
I would like to thank the BSPP for providing me with funding to enable me to attend the conference, giving me an excellent opportunity to present my work and to engage with experts in the field of Phytopthora research.
Gilli Thorp The Food and Environment Research Agency