A team of researchers at University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences have been at ground zero of a pest problem that is endangering the sustainability of the avocado. Laurel wilt disease (LWD) is an invasive, lethal disease in the southeastern United States spread by a fungus transmitted by the ambrosia beetle. The disease wilts and then browns tree leaves, killing entire trees in only a few weeks.
Since 2003, it has killed millions of native forest trees and has impacted commercial avocado production in South Florida, said Jonathan Crane, a UF/IFAS professor of horticultural sciences and Extension tropical fruit specialist stationed at UF/IFAS Tropical Research and Education Center (TREC) in Homestead.
Given the destructive nature of this disease, there have been major concerns over the future of the Florida avocado industry, which provides an annual economic impact of nearly $100 million (USD), adds Edward “Gilly” Evans, a UF/IFAS professor of food and resource economics and director of TREC. Since 2012, the disease has been directly and indirectly responsible for the death and destruction of more than 120,000 trees which is the equivalent loss of about 16.5 million pounds of potential guacamole.
The IFAS Tropical research and Education Center, which celebrates its 90th anniversary this year, has been at the forefront of the research to find pest management and eradication methods for the disease. An area wide management program centered on early detection and destruction of affected tress has slowed down the spread of the disease as research continues.
UF/IFAS scientists at TREC and throughout the state are committed to developing ongoing integrated pest management practices to protect the valuable commercial crop industry that is valued at $100 million a year to producers who are mostly in Miami Dade County.