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Hymenoscyphus pseudoalbidus (chalara ash dieback)

Hymenoscyphus pseudoalbidus is a virulent fungal pathogen of ash trees that causes 'chalara ash dieback' in northern and central Europe and has recently spread to the UK.

Hymenoscyphus pseudoalbidus (chalara ash dieback fungus) on twig

Hymenoscyphus pseudoalbidus (Photo: V. Queloz/ETH Zurich, Switzerland)

Species information

Scientific name: 

Hymenoscyphus pseudoalbidus V.Queloz, C.R.Grünig, R.Berndt, T.Kowalski, T.N.Sieber & O.Holdenrieder

Common name: 

chalara ash dieback, European ash dieback, chalara fraxinea, chalara dieback of ash

Conservation status: 

Not assessed.

Habitat: 

Dead and dying parts (including twigs and petioles) of European ash (Fraxinus excelsior), narrow-leaved ash (F. angustifolia) and possibly other Fraxinus species.

Key Uses: 

None known.

Known hazards: 

No direct hazards have been reported.

Taxonomy

Phylum: 
Ascomycota
Subphylum: 
Pezizomycotina
Order: 
Helotiales
Family: 
Helotiaceae
Genus: Hymenoscyphus

About this species

A virulent fungal pathogen of ash trees, Hymenoscyphus pseudoalbidus was first recognized in its asexual form as the cause of dieback of ash trees in Poland. It was originally described as Chalara fraxinea, and this name is frequently used in the popular literature. The origin of the species is not understood in detail, but it seems likely that the fungus was introduced to Europe from eastern Asia.

Hymenoscyphus pseudoalbidus is similar in appearance to H. albidus, a common and widespread species native to Europe, which fruits on dead ash petioles and twigs but does not cause disease. Recent research in Denmark has suggested that H. pseudoalbidus is an aggressive competitor, occupying the same ecological niche as H. albidus, leading to decline of the native fungus.

Synonym: 

Chalara fraxinea T.Kowalski

Genus: 
Hymenoscyphus

Discover more

Geography and distribution

Hymenoscyphus pseudoalbidus was originally discovered in Poland in 2006, although there are suggestions that ash dieback witnessed in northern Europe in the 1990s was caused by this fungus. It is now known from most countries in northern and central Europe.

Hymenoscyphus pseudoalbidus (portrait)

Disc-shaped fruiting bodies of Hymenoscyphus pseudoalbidus (Photo: V. Queloz/ETH Zurich, Switzerland)

‘Chalara ash dieback’ was first found in the UK in February 2012 and is currently spreading from infection sites in East Anglia and Kent through the movement of ash saplings in the forestry trade. There are fears that H. pseudoalbidus will cause widespread loss of ash trees in the UK and result in landscape-level changes in some parts of the country.

Description

Fruiting bodies: White to cream, disc-shaped fruiting bodies 1.5–3.0 mm in diameter on short stalks 0.5–2.0 mm tall and 0.2–0.5 mm in diameter. Fruiting bodies become brownish with age and when dry. The basal part of the stalk may be blackened; fruiting bodies arise from blackened areas of fallen petioles (leaf stalks) or dead shoots.

Sexual spores (ascospores): Formed within specialized cells (asci). Asci measure 80–110 µm in length and 6–12 µm in diameter and are cylindrical to narrowly club-shaped with a distinct stalk. Each produces eight colourless, non-septate ascospores. These measure 13.0–17.0 (–21.0) × 3.5–5.0 µm in size and are ellipsoidal to fusiform in shape, broadly rounded above and narrowed below.

Asexual spores (conidia): Produced when the fungus is grown in pure culture from specialized fertile hyphae, presumably also in the natural environment. Their function may be related to genetic exchange.

Threats and conservation

The threat that Hymenoscyphus pseudoalbidus poses to valued timber and landscape trees means that its conservation in Europe will be of low public priority.

There are concerns that death of ash trees on which it grows will also affect other groups of organisms. For example, 220 of the 582 species of lichens and related fungi known to grow on ash bark in Great Britain and Ireland are nationally rare or scarce, and 84 of these have a conservation status of Critically Endangered, Endangered, Vulnerable or Near-threatened.

Fraxinus excelsior (European ash) tree

Fraxinus excelsior (European ash) is under threat from 'chalara ash dieback'.

Control of ‘chalara ash dieback’

Control of Hymenoscyphus pseudoalbidus is difficult, although removal and incineration of infected tissues may be beneficial during early stages of disease outbreak.

There is evidence that genetic diversity in its host trees, Fraxinus species, is relatively large and that a proportion of trees are resistant. In the long-term, therefore, selection for resistance may be effective. However, Hymenoscyphus pseudoalbidus seems to spread primarily via sexual spores, mixing the gene pool and potentially circumventing host resistance.

Little is known about the native European species, H. albidus, and it is possible that other cryptic species might be discovered that are morphologically similar to this species and H. pseudoalbidus. The potential for hybridisation within the species complex cannot be discounted.

This species at Kew

Hymenoscyphus pseudoalbidus has not yet been recorded at Kew or Wakehurst.

References and credits

Bakys, R., Vasaitis, R., Barklund, P., Ihrmark, K. & Stenlid, J. (2009). Investigations concerning the role of Chalara fraxinea in declining Fraxinus excelsior. Plant Pathology 58: 284–292.

Bengtsson, S. B. K., Vasaitis, R., Kirisits, T., Solheim, H. & Stenlid, J. (2012). Population structure of Hymenoscyphus pseudoalbidus and its genetic relationship to Hymenoscyphus albidus. Fungal Ecology 5: 147–153.

Kowalski, T. (2006): Chalara fraxinea sp. nov. associated with dieback of ash (Fraxinus excelsior) in Poland. Forest Pathology 36: 264–270.

Kowalski, T. & Holdenrieder, O. (2009). The teleomorph of Chalara fraxinea, the causal agent of ash dieback. Forest Pathology 39: 304–308.

McKinney, L. V., Thomsen, I. M., Kjær, E. D., Bengtsson, S. B. K. & Nielsen, L. R. (2012). Rapid invasion by an aggressive pathogenic fungus (Hymenoscyphus pseudoalbidus) replaces a native decomposer (Hymenoscyphus albidus): a case of local cryptic extinction? Fungal Ecology 5: 663–669.

Queloz, V., Grünig, C. R., Berndt, R., Kowalski, T., Sieber, T. N. & Holdenrieder, O. (2011). Cryptic speciation in Hymenoscyphus albidus. Forest Pathology 41: 133–142.

Kew Science Editor: Paul Cannon
Copyediting: Emma Tredwell
Kew would like to thank the following contributors: Valentin Queloz (ETH Zurich, Switzerland) for providing an image.

Although every effort has been taken to ensure that the information contained in these pages is reliable and complete, notes on hazards, edibility and suchlike included here are recorded information and do not constitute recommendations. No responsibility will be taken for readers’ own actions.

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