ROHNERT PARK, September 20, 2002 -- Sonoma State University and UC Davis researchers have received an $810,657 grant from the Natural Science Foundation to use a geographic modeling system to track and predict spread of Sudden Oak Death, a plant disease that has reached epidemic levels in the coastal ranges of California.

The multidisciplinary research grant will allow geographers and biologists at SSU and UC Davis to collaboratively study the critical factors in the environment and host species that contribute to the spread of Phytophthora ramorum, the fungus known to be the cause of Sudden Oak Death. It will also allow fostering of participation of undergraduates in cross-disciplinary research and integrate the research into the curriculum of core courses in the biology and geography departments at SSU.

Project researchers include Dr. Ross Meentemeyer, director of SSU's geographic information systems lab; SSU biology professors Drs. Hall Cushman, Nathan Rank, and Richard Whitkus; and UC Davis plant pathologist Dr. David Rizzo. The data collected by the researchers will be integrated in a computer simulation model to forecast changes in the distribution of the disease across Sonoma County's landscape.

Seventeen plant species are known to be susceptible to Sudden Oak Death, and evidence of the disease has been found in Douglas Fir saplings at the SSU's Fairfield Osborn Preserve and among redwoods in other parts of the region.