Fraxinus excelsior, common ash native to Europe, is threatened by a recently identified pathogenic fungus Chalara fraxinea, which causes extensive damage on ash trees across Europe. In Denmark, most stands are severely affected leaving many trees with dead crowns. However, single trees show notably fewer symptoms. In this study, the impact of the emerging infectious disease on native Danish ash trees is assessed by estimating presence of inherent resistance in natural populations. Disease symptoms were assessed from 2007 to 2009 at two different sites with grafted ramets of 39 selected clones representing native F. excelsior trees. A strong genetic variation in susceptibility to C. fraxinea infections was observed. No genetic or geographic structure can explain the differences, but strong genetic correlations to leaf senescence were observed. The results suggest that a small fraction of trees in the Danish population of ash possess substantial resistance against the damage. Though this fraction is probably too low to avoid population collapse in most natural or managed ash forests, the observed presence of putative resistance against the emerging infectious disease in natural stands is likely to be of evolutionary importance. This provides prospects of future maintenance of the species through natural or artificial selection in favour of remaining healthy individuals
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