Laurel Wilt Disease

The Everglades is a distressed ecosystem. Usually, climate change, pollution, and human development come to mind when the topic of a hurting wetland comes up. Sadly, the Everglades are currently facing another threat to its future: a fungus.  This fungus goes by the name Laurel Wilt, and it is a tree disease that showed up in the Everglades in 2011.

Laurel Wilt is one of the most invasive tree diseases in North America. According to a conference on the disease held at the University of Florida, the disease has killed hundreds of millions of trees, which in turn has affected and damaged the surrounding ecosystems. Once infected, a tree can die within a couple of weeks; in that same forest, any tree less than three inches in diameter will be dead in under four years.

The fungus is introduced to the trees through an Asian insect called the redbay ambrosia beetle. The trees cannot handle this nonnative fungus. These beetles are extremely small, measuring at only 1/16 of an inch. The fungus this beetle carries is pathogenic. After they burrow into the tree, the fungus enters the wood. A female beetle can reproduce on the tree without needing the male; the offspring leave the tree to attack surrounding trees. Trees will have wilted stems and leaves and have a dark stained color underneath their bark. It only takes one female beetle to kill a tree. Since 2011, the disease has killed swamp bay trees across more than 330,000 acres of the Everglades.

Only plants in the Laurel family are affected by the disease. One of the biggest plants affect by the Laurel Wilt are avocados. In 2015, nearly, 9000 avocado trees were killed by the disease. Farmers have been spraying pesticides to control the beetle; however, these sprays cannot be used in the Everglades or other wild areas. Redbay trees across Florida, and five other states, have also been affected.

When a tree and surrounding trees die, a space opens within the canopy. With dead trees and open canopies, the ecosystem is now vulnerable to invasive plants that have caused a drop in mammal populations in the Everglades. Such invasive plants include: melaleuca fern, Australian pine, and Brazilian pepper.

Fighting Laurel Wilt Disease
There is currently no effective way to control or stop these beetles and disease. Chemicals can be used to kill ambrosia beetles once they’re confirmed living on a farm, but this isn’t the case for the Everglades. The South Florida Water Management District oversees restoration in the Everglades and is improving its monitoring and maintenance of any affected areas in the wetland. Invasive plants and insects are a big problem in the Everglades, and officials are trying to find the best ways to fight them.

Visit the Everglades
The Everglades are a fragile ecosystem; this wetland has been up against years of damage from climate change, rising sea levels, and development from humans. With other invasive threats, the Everglades are continuing to be in a battle for its own survival. By being educated on the topic and taking preventative measures, there are ways to preserve the Everglades.

The best way to experience the Everglades, while its still around, is by airboat. Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours take you all around the beautiful wetland. To schedule your airboat tour, click here or call 239-695-3377.