New portable testing speeds detection of rapid ʻōhiʻa death pathogens

Researchers have developed a portable “lab-in-a-suitcase” for diagnostic field testing for the two species of fungal pathogens that infect ʻōhiʻa.

Brown trees
Symptoms of Ceratocystis wilt of ʻōhiʻa include rapid browning of affected tree crowns.

Researchers have developed a new, more efficient tool for detecting the pathogens believed to be the cause of rapid ʻōhiʻa death, according to a recently published study by the Hawaiʻi Cooperative Studies Unit at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo, the USGS Pacific Islands Ecosystem Research Center, and USDA Agriculture Research Service.

The authors of the report (A rapid diagnostics test and mobile “Lab-in-a-Suitcase” platform for detecting Ceratocystis spp. responsible for rapid ʻōhiʻa death) have developed a portable lab for diagnostic field testing for the two species of fungal pathogens that infect ʻōhiʻa (Metrosideros polymorpha). The portable lab, which provides quick results and reduces instrumentation costs, is currently being used by the Big Island Invasive Species Committee to detect infected trees and identify the distribution of the pathogens.

“Having this portable lab gives us the capability to do our own diagnostics and get a quicker answer about whether or not a tree is positive for rapid ʻōhiʻa death,” says Bill Buckley, forest response coordinator for the invasive species committee and leader of their Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death Early Detection and Rapid Response Team. “The result then allows us to take management actions right away or do more targeted testing.”

The Hawaiʻi Department of Agriculture is also planning to use the portable lab to help screen shipments of ʻōhiʻa logs for the pathogens.

Rapid ʻōhiʻa death was first identified in the lower Puna district of Hawaiʻi Island in 2014, and now infects more than 50,000 acres of private and state forest lands on the island. The disease is a serious threat and imperils long-term sustainability of watersheds managed by Department of Interior agencies, the State of Hawaiʻi, and Hawaiʻi Watershed Partnerships.


Media release