Journal of Chemical Ecology

, Volume 33, Issue 9, pp 1721-1732

First online:

Phenolic Chemistry of Coast Live Oak Response to Phytophthora ramorum Infection

  • Frances S. OckelsAffiliated withDepartment of Plant Pathology, The Ohio State University
  • , Alieta EylesAffiliated withDepartment of Plant Pathology, The Ohio State University Email author 
  • , Brice A. McPhersonAffiliated withCenter for Forestry and Integrated Hardwood Rangeland Management Program, Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, University of California
  • , David L. WoodAffiliated withDivision of Organisms and Environment, Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, University of California
  • , Pierluigi BonelloAffiliated withDepartment of Plant Pathology, The Ohio State University

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Since the mid 1990s, Phytophthora ramorum has been responsible for the widespread mortality of tanoaks, as well as several oak species throughout California and Oregon forests. However, not all trees die, even in areas with high disease pressure, suggesting that some trees may be resistant to the pathogen. In this study, the chemical basis of host resistance was investigated. Three field experiments were carried out in California between December 2004 and September 2005. The levels of nine phenolic compounds (gallic acid, catechin, tyrosol, a tyrosol derivative, ellagic acid, and four ellagic acid derivatives) extracted from the phloem of trees that had been either artificially inoculated with P. ramorum or trees putatively infected with P. ramorum (based on canker symptoms) were quantified by high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC). Significant differences in phenolic profiles were found between phloem sampled from the active margins of cankers, healthy phloem from asymptomatic trees, and phloem sampled 60 cm away from canker sites, although the magnitude and direction of the responses was not consistent across all experiments. Concentrations of gallic acid, tyrosol, and ellagic acid showed the greatest differences in these different tissues, but varied considerably across treatments. Gallic acid and tyrosol were tested in in vitro bioassays and showed strong dose-dependent inhibitory effects against P. ramorum, P. cinnamomi, P. citricola, and P. citrophthora. These results suggest that phloem chemistry varies in response to pathogen infection in California coast live oak populations and that changes in phloem chemistry may be related to apparently resistant phenotypes observed in the field.


Sudden oak death Resistance Quercus agrifolia Canker In vitro bioassay