Most rust fungi are highly host specific, but Puccina psidii has an extremely broad host range within Myrtaceae and gained notoriety with a host jump in its native Brazil from common guava (Psidium guajava) to commercial Eucalyptus plantations. When detected in Hawai‘i in April 2005, the first invasion outside the neotropics/subtropics, there was immediate concern for ‘ōhi‘a (Metrosideros polymorpha). ‘Ōhi‘a composes 80% of native forest statewide, providing stable watersheds and habitat for most Hawaiian forest birds and plants. Within months, rust spores spread statewide on wind currents, but ‘ōhi‘a was found to be only a minor host, showing very light damage. The primary host was nonnative rose apple (Syzygium jambos), severely affected at a landscape scale, but the epiphytotic subsided as rose apple was largely defoliated or killed within several years. The limited and stable host range in Hawai‘i (versus elsewhere) led the local conservation community to explore possibilities for excluding new genetic strains of P. psidii. Although national/international phytosanitary standards require strong scientific justification for regulations involving an infraspecific taxonomic level, hopes were buoyed when genetic studies showed no apparent genetic variation/evolution in Hawai‘i's rust strain. A sophisticated genetic study of P. psidii in its home range is near completion; genetic variation is substantial, and host species strongly influences rust population structure. To prevent introduction of new strains, the Hawai‘i Department of Agriculture is moving ahead with establishing stringent measures that restrict entry of Myrtaceae into Hawai‘i. Meanwhile, P. psidii poses a major threat to Myrtaceae biodiversity worldwide.
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Vol. 66 • No. 2