A Critically Endangered Proteaceae in the Cape Florisitic Region threatened by an invasive pathogen
Keywords:Phytophthora cinnamomi, root rot, susceptibility continuum, threatened species, Proteaceae
Background: Sorocephalus imbricatus (Thunb.) R.Br. is a range-restricted species endemic to the Cape Floristic Region (CFR), South Africa. It is currently classified as Critically Endangered in accordance with the IUCN criteria. Like many other species endemic to the CFR, S. imbricatus is subjected to several major threats including habitat loss, habitat degradation and the impacts of invasive alien species. Sorocephalus imbricatus was recently identified as a species requiring improved representation in ex-situ collections. During field work undertaken to collect germplasm for this purpose, a concerning number of dead and dying plants were observed.
Objectives: To determine the cause of rapid death of individuals in a remnant subpopulation of S. imbricatus.
Method: A field visit to a subpopulation of the only extant population, Elandskloof, was conducted to examine the symptoms associated with S. imbricatus mortality, and to collect samples for isolation and identification of putative pathogens.
Results: Dead and dying plants showed clear symptoms of root and collar rot, with Phytophthora cinnamomi Rands recovered from all samples. The collections highlighted the severe impact of P. cinnamomi on S. imbricatus, with the size of the subpopulation being reduced from 62 to 37 individuals (a 40% reduction) between October 2021 and May 2022.
Conclusion: This study describes, for the first time, rapid mortality of the Critically Endangered Proteaceae species, S. imbricatus, likely caused by the invasive pathogen P. cinnamomi. This concerning discovery highlights the urgent need for greater recognition of the threat P. cinnamomi poses not only to S. imbricatus, but to the broader floristic diversity of the CFR. Importantly, it illustrates a need for a substantial body of work to be undertaken to address a significant lack of knowledge regarding the relative threat that P. cinnamomi poses to species of the CFR.
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