By Rabiu O. Olatinwo, Stephen W. Fraedrich and Albert E. Mayfield III
In recent years, outbreaks of nonnative invasive insects and pathogens have caused significant levels of tree mortality and disturbance in various forest ecosystems throughout the United States. Laurel wilt, caused by the pathogen Raffaelea lauricola (T.C. Harr., Fraedrich and Aghayeva) and the primary vector, the redbay ambrosia beetle (Xyleborus glabratus Eichhoff), is a nonnative pest-disease complex first reported in the southeastern United States in 2002. Since then, it has spread across eleven southeastern states to date, killing hundreds of millions of trees in the plant family Lauraceae. Here, we examine the impacts of laurel wilt on selected vulnerable Lauraceae in the United States and discuss management methods for limiting geographic expansion and reducing impact. Although about 13 species belonging to the Lauraceae are indigenous to the United States, the highly susceptible members of the family to laurel wilt are the large tree species including redbay (Persea borbonia (L.) Spreng) and sassafras (Sassafras albidum (Nutt.) Nees), with a significant economic impact on the commercial production of avocado (Persea americana Mill.), an important species native to Central America grown in the United States. Preventing new introductions and mitigating the impact of previously introduced nonnative species are critically important to decelerate losses of forest habitat, genetic diversity, and overall ecosystem value.