invisible-killer-threatens-countrys-sandalwood-forests-sandalwood-spike-disease

  • India’s sandalwood trees, the country’s pride — particularly of Karnataka — are facing a serious threat with the return of the destructive Sandalwood Spike Disease (SSD).
  • The infection has resurfaced in the aromatic tree’s natural habitats in Karnataka and Kerala. 
  • The natural population of sandalwood in Marymoor of Kerala and various reserve forests in Karnataka, including MM Hills, are heavily infected with SSD for which there is no cure as of now.
  • Presently, there is no option but to cut down and remove the infected tree to prevent the spread of the disease, caused by phytoplasma — bacterial parasites of plant tissues — which are transmitted by insect vectors.
  • With between 1 and 5% of sandalwood trees lost every year due to the disease, scientists warn that it could wipe out the entire natural population if measures are not taken to prevent its spread. 
  • Also, they fear that any delay in arresting the trend may result in the disease spreading to cultivated sandalwood trees.
  • SSD has been one of the major causes for the decline in sandalwood production in the country for over a century. The disease was first reported in Kodagu in 1899. More than a million sandalwood trees were removed in the Kodagu and Mysuru region between 1903 and 1916, prompting the Maharaja of Mysuru to announce a reward in 1907 of ₹10,000 for anyone finding a remedy. 
  • Such was the impact of this disease in Karnataka that the growing stock had been reduced to 25% of its initial level between 1980 and 2000. 
  • The devastating impact in natural habitats resulted in sandalwood being classified as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature in 1998.
  • The present rapid spread of the infection is largely due to restrictions on green felling in forests, which has allowed vectors to spread the disease to healthy trees, says the IWST study.
  • In an effort to combat the killer disease, the IWST will join hands with the Pune-based National Centre for Cell Sciences for a three-year study, initiated by the Union Ministry of Ayush with a financial allocation of ₹50 lakh.