University of California, Department of Plant Pathology, One Shields Ave., Davis 95616.
California bay laurel trees (Umbellularia californica) play a crucial role in the reproduction and survival of Phytophthora ramorum in coastal California forests by supporting sporulation during the rainy season and by providing a means for the pathogen to survive the dry, Mediterranean summer. While bay laurel is thus critical to the epidemiology of sudden oak death and other P. ramorum diseases in California, the relatively minor symptoms observed on this reservoir host suggest that it may not sustain ecologically significant injury itself. The long-term role that P. ramorum will play in California forests will depend in part on the extent to which this pathogen decreases the ecological fitness of bay laurel. Despite the importance of this question, no study has yet investigated in detail the physiological impact that ramorum blight imposes on bay laurel. This experimental study quantifies the impact that P. ramorum has on artificially inoculated bay laurel seedlings with measurements that integrate the full injury that infection with an oomycete may cause: photosynthetic efficiency, total photosynthetic area, and growth. Leaf area and leaf mass were not impacted significantly by infection of P. ramorum. Photosynthetic efficiency was mildly depressed in symptomatic, but not asymptomatic leaves, despite unnaturally high levels of necrosis that were imposed on the seedlings. These results demonstrate that bay laurel trees suffer only minor injury from ramorum blight beyond visible necrotic symptoms. Consequently, it is highly likely that bay laurel will continue to be widely available as a host for P. ramorum in California forests, which has long-term implications for the composition of these forests.