Congratulations to Felipe Balocchi on the successful completion of his PhD! He presented his Prestige (PhD defense) Seminar “Araucaria (Araucaria araucana) canker disease in Chile: etiology and fungal diversity” to a packed FABI auditorium on 13 October. The online audience for this hybrid presentation also included several of Felipe’s family members in Chile, his examiners and other research partners from across the globe.

Felipe completed his PhD under the supervision of FABI academics Prof. Irene Barnes, Prof. Mike Wingfield and Dr Rodrigo Ahumada of Bioforest SA in Chile. His examiners were Prof. David Hibbett of Clark University (USA), Dr David Rizzo of the University of California, Davis (USA) and Dr Martin Kemler of the Ruhr University Bochum in Germany.

In her introduction, Prof. Barnes praised Felipe for steering his PhD project in a magnificent way and for tackling it with “enthusiasm, and precise determination”. She made mention that this was the same way he would perform any task assigned to him, always extending “over and beyond expectation”.

A serious disease has recently emerged on A. araucana, an iconic conifer species endemic to the mountain ranges of Chile and Argentina. The main objective of Felipé’s project was to describe the main symptoms of this disease and to determine its causal agent, as well as to consider associated organisms. Felipe highlighted the fact that there have been very few studies regarding the health of the Araucariaceae, a mostly endangered family of trees, and the threats posed by invasive alien organisms and climate change.

Felipe’s study described the symptomatology associated with the cankers found on A. araucana. He showed that s that the causal agent of the disease was a fungus in the Coryneliaceae. Morphological and phylogenetic analyses demonstrated that the fungus resides in a novel genus and species, described in the study as Pewenomyces kutranfy. He also characterised additional Pewenomyces species present on the diseased A. araucana samples. Phylogenetic and morphological analyses revealed the presence of three new distinct species of Pewenomyces, which he hasdescribed as Pewenomyces lalenivora, P. tapulicola and P. kalosus, none of which appeared to be pathogenic. Inthe final part of this study Felipé described two fungal species in the genus Resinogalea (R. araucana and R. tapulicola) found growing on the resin released from cankers on branches of A. araucana. All the fungi discovered as part of Felipe’s doctoral studies are rare species and seem to have a close relationship with A. araucana and the environmental conditions where these trees occur.