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A mysterious disease is starting to kill American beeches, one of eastern North America's most important trees, and has spread rapidly from the Great Lakes to New England. But scientists disagree about what is causing the ailment, dubbed beech leaf disease. Some have recently blamed a tiny leaf-eating worm introduced from Asia, but others are skeptical that's the whole story.
Regardless of their views, researchers say the outbreak deserves attention. "We're dealing with something really unusual," says Lynn Carta, a plant disease specialist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Beltsville, Maryland.
American - Beech - Fagus - Grandifolia - Trunks
American beech (Fagus grandifolia), whose smooth gray trunks can resemble giant elephant legs, can grow to almost 40 meters tall. It is the fifth most common tree species in southern New England and in New York state—and the single most common tree in Washington, D.C. Its annual nut crop provides food for birds, squirrels, and deer.
Beeches in the United States were already struggling with a bark-infesting fungus when, in 2012, biologist John Pogacnik of Lake Metroparks, which manages natural areas in Ohio's Lake County, spotted trees with leaves that were shriveled and had black stripes. By 2018, foresters had documented beeches with similar symptoms in 24 counties in eastern Ohio, western Pennsylvania and New York, and Canada's Ontario province. Small trees with shriveled leaves were starting to die; on larger beeches, the symptoms crept up the tree toward leaves in the canopy. Worried foresters began to pry loose research funding from USDA and other agencies, and organized a meeting to discuss the disease in May 2018 in Parma, Ohio.
Plant - Pathologist - David - McCann - Ohio
There, plant pathologist David McCann, of the Ohio Department of Agriculture in Reynoldsburg, said he had found thousands of wriggling worms streaming from infected beech leaves. He sent Carta samples of the worms, which can be up to 2 millimeters long....
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