Ancient isolation and independent evolution of the three clonal lineages of the exotic sudden oak death pathogen Phytophthora ramorum

Mol Ecol. 2009 Mar;18(6):1161-74. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-294X.2009.04089.x. Epub 2008 Feb 9.


The genus Phytophthora includes some of the most destructive plant pathogens affecting agricultural and native ecosystems and is responsible for a number of recent emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases of plants. Sudden oak death, caused by the exotic pathogen P. ramorum, has caused extensive mortality of oaks and tanoaks in Northern California, and has brought economic losses to US and European nurseries as well due to its infection of common ornamental plants. In its known range, P. ramorum occurs as three distinct clonal lineages. We inferred the evolutionary history of P. ramorum from nuclear sequence data using coalescent-based approaches. We found that the three lineages have been diverging for at least 11% of their history, an evolutionarily significant amount of time estimated to be on the order of 165,000 to 500,000 years. There was also strong evidence for historical recombination between the lineages, indicating that the ancestors of the P. ramorum lineages were members of a sexually reproducing population. Due to this recombination, the ages of the lineages varied within and between loci, but coalescent analyses suggested that the European lineage may be older than the North American lineages. The divergence of the three clonal lineages of P. ramorum supports a scenario in which the three lineages originated from different geographic locations that were sufficiently isolated from each other to allow independent evolution prior to introduction to North America and Europe. It is thus probable that the emergence of P. ramorum in North America and Europe was the result of three independent migration events.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Cell Nucleus / genetics
  • DNA, Plant / genetics
  • Europe
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Genes, Fungal
  • Geography
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • North America
  • Phylogeny*
  • Phytophthora / classification
  • Phytophthora / genetics*
  • Polymorphism, Genetic
  • Quercus / microbiology
  • Recombination, Genetic
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA


  • DNA, Plant