U.S. bacterium-intruder threatens Mediterranean tree olives

Mediterranean tree olives

Italy has sounded the alarm over the rapid spread of the bacterium Xylella fastidiosa, also known as olive leaf scorch. This bacterium has infected more than 80,000 acres of groves in the Apulia region at the southernmost tip of Italy, resulting in significant losses to the agricultural sector of the economy.

When Xylella fastidiosa infects a plant, it prevents water movement in trees and causes extensive yellowing of their leaves, which turn brown and fall off. This pathogen can contaminate more than 150 species of trees, including olive, oak, sycamore, citrus, cherry, almond, grapefruit, peach, oleander, and forest trees. This exotic bacterium is usually found in the Americas and the Middle East, and scientists believe that infected insects carried with plant commodities, or traveling as stowaways, have brought it to Europe.

Photo: Xylella fastidiosa

Photo: Xylella fastidiosa

“We have never seen anything like that in the history of Italian Agriculture” says Antonio Guario, director of the Centre of Plant Protection of Apulia.

Last week Vytenis Andriukaitis, the European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, visited the region and noted that, according to estimates of experts, the bacterium has affected 10% of olive trees in Apulia and he is very concerned about the gravity of the situation. Drastic measures with immediate effect need to be taken, as the spread of the pathogen by infected insects is very easy and might threaten the relatively close by oil producing areas of Tuscany and Umbria. So, they are thinking of taking stringent measures to curb the epidemic, like uprooting 11 million olive trees from infected areas. Of course, this is a very sad and painful situation for growers, but it is necessary to remove infected trees, as this is the most effective way of preventing the spread in Italy and throughout the Mediterranean.

For this reason, representatives of other member countries have already expressed their concerns that, without radical measures, the disease will destroy the groves, vineyards and citrus of adjacent European countries.

Spain on alert

The Spanish Ministry of Agriculture, in cooperation with the most impacted regions of Italy, has designed a special program for proactive monitoring and effective response in the event of an outbreak of Xylella fastidiosa, according to the statements of the General Director for Health of Agricultural Production of the Ministry of Agriculture of Spain, Valentín Almansa.

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About the author

Irini Chassioti is a teacher and chemist with a master’s degree in Environmental Chemistry and Technology. She was born and raised in the northern suburbs of Athens and is an active member of the local city improvement association. Her activities include the protection of the local ecosystem, writing scientific articles related to environment, ecology and sustainable development and the education of pupils on environmental issues.