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April 10, 2018 > Citizens become scientists to track oak tree deaths

Citizens become scientists to track oak tree deaths

Submitted By Matteo Garbelotto

Twenty-three communities will come together for the 11th annual Sudden Oak Death (SOD) Blitz surveys this spring from San Luis Obispo to Mendocino Counties in an effort to help researchers track the spread of the pathogen that causes SOD (Phytophthora ramorum).

ÒSOD Blitzes are key to CaliforniaÕs sudden oak death monitoring program. Without the help of countless blitz citizen scientists, we would be ill informed as to where the pathogen is present and active throughout the populated areas of CaliforniaÕs impacted counties. Thanks to their help, we can maintain a pulse on the ebb and flow of pathogen spread, which enables communities and homeowners to make informed decisions about where preventative treatments should be focused and how to manage for the pathogen to help protect at-risk oaks. With no known cure, prevention is primary,Ó said Matteo Garbelotto, UC Berkeley faculty who runs the Blitzes.

People living or recreating near areas known to be impacted by SOD are encouraged to participate in a Blitz. Volunteers with a smartphone should bring it to the training with the free ÔSODMAP MobileÕ app already installed as it can help in identifying potential collection locations.

Symptomatic California bay laurel and tanoak leaves generally precede oak infections and are often the first sign that P. ramorum is in a location. Participants will be trained to identify and collect symptomatic bay and tanoak leaves as well as tanoak twigs and record sample locations. All materials necessary for sampling will be provided during training sessions.

SOD Blitz samples will be taken to the UC Berkeley Garbelotto lab to determine the presence or absence of the pathogen. Results will be posted online in the fall to SODMAP ( and to the SODMAP Mobile app ( These two tools are updated annually with laboratory-confirmed (positive and negative) landscape findings and can be used to help inform people as to the presence and risk of SOD at a given location.

SOD is a serious disease that is caused by an invasive pathogen that is killing tanoak, coast live oak, California black oak, ShreveÕs oak, and canyon live oak trees in California. It is the primary cause of tree mortality in coastal California, with more than 5 million trees having died in since its discovery in the mid-1990s. Even though it is a water-loving organism, the pathogen still spreads, albeit more slowly, in drought years.

SOD Blitzes are made possible by the work of local volunteers, along with funding from the PG&E Foundation and the USDA Forest Service, State and Private Forestry. For more information on Sudden Oak Death and P. ramorum, go to the California Oak Mortality Task Force website at

One-hour SOD Blitz weekend training sessions run through May 19. For location and time details go to or call Matteo Garbelotto at (510) 410-7058. Trainings are free. Attendees should bring mobile devices or GPS units if they have them.

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