A newly discovered nematode, causing what is known as beech leaf disease, is threatening American beech trees from Maine to Virginia, according to a group of scientists studying the phenomenon.
First identified in Ohio in 2012, the microscopic parasite has since spread to 12 states, inflicting substantial damage to forests and backyards, and costing nursery owners millions.
Despite the potential ecological impact, research on this disease has been hindered by a lack of funding.
The American beech, a critical species in forest ecosystems, has been devastated by this pest, whose effects mirror that of cancer cells in mammals – a characteristic unique among known leaf-infecting nematodes.
Scientists have yet to determine the source of these nematodes and the speed of their spread. Though the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has allocated over $108,000 for research, many believe the issue would garner more attention if it impacted a more commercially valuable tree species.
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