Trees, like all plants, need to constantly adapt to an ever changing environment. Due to plants sessile nature, and unlike animals plants need to find coping mechanisms to several environmental challenges. A major aim of our research is to study tree genomic variation, molecular biology and physiology in response to climate change and to biotic stresses, such as pathogen attacks. One of our ongoing projects at the lab focus on the study of pine wilt disease (PWD). Pine wilt disease (PWD) is caused by the pine wood nematode, Bursaphelenchus xylophilus (PWN), a serious fatal condition for conifers that represents a threat to ecosystems and biodiversity in the affected areas as well as considerable economic losses due to waste of timber and disease control procedures.
The PWN enters the susceptible pine trees during the phytophagous phase of its life cycle, transported by an insect vector, a cerambycid beetle belonging to the genus Monochamus, and propagates through the vascular system of the pine trees, damaging the ducts and causing tracheid cavitation, therefore contributing to pine death. PWN has been detected for the first time in Portugal and Europe in 1999 and has since spread from localized areas in the Setúbal Península to forest areas across mainland Portugal and the island of Madeira, as well as Spain. Global trade of forest products is the main vector for the introduction of PWN outside of North America, its native area. Considering Pinus pinaster, the susceptible species to PWD in Portuguese territory, is the most abundant pine species in Portugal, this parasite represents a major ecological and economic concern. It is therefore vital to develop strategies to detect and control the propagation of this disease.