Research studying new ways of detecting oak wilt

University of Minnesota researchers are using handheld devices as small as notepads

A team of researchers at the University of Minnesota is studying radiospectrometer technology to determine whether it can be used to diagnose oak wilt before it is visible to humans.

Early detection of the disease is important as it allows for earlier treatment, which proves more effective, according to the researchers' paper.

“Oak wilt ….considered one of the most destructive threats to oak trees in the U.S.A…..can be effectively controlled when detected early,” according to the paper published in Tree Physiology, an academic journal.

The researchers included U of M Prof. Jeannine Callender-Bares, and Beth Fallon, who now works at the National Park Service. They noted that “limiting the impact of oak wilt on oak communities requires rapid methods that identify oak wilt.”

The researchers used radio spectrometers to measure light reflectance. (These are handheld devices that are slightly larger than a notepad and weigh about 8.5 pounds.) Individual trees could be diagnosed by scanning leaves at about 9 inches or less.

“Oak wilt can be accurately detected and differentiated with other stressors in multiple oak species using spectral data,” the paper concluded.

At a stand level the same technology might be used “remotely” to diagnose oak wilt if 20 percent of a stand displays symptoms, according to the paper. It said remote spectral detection could be a “viable tool.” But the paper didn’t establish what proximity would be required for accurate readings.

Oak wilt is highly contagious and can be hard to detect because it spreads among trees via their route systems. Oaks make up roughly one third of the hardwood inventory in the Lake States.

The research was funded by a University of Minnesota Grand Challenges Research Grant.

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