In the past decade, black walnut (Juglans nigra) trees throughout western North America have suffered from widespread branch dieback and canopy loss, causing substantial tree mortality (2,3). The fungus, Geosmithia morbida, vectored by the walnut twig beetle (WTB), Pityophthorus juglandis, has been associated with this devastating disease known as Thousand Cankers Disease (TCD) (2,3). In August of 2012, branch samples from TCD symptomatic black walnut trees (5 to 10 cm in diameter and 15 to 30 cm long) were collected on the North Carolina side of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park (GRSM) in Cataloochee Cove (35°37.023′ N, 83°07.351′ W) and near the Big Creek Campground (35°45.290′ N, 83°06.473′ W), in Haywood County. Five symptomatic trees near the Big Creek Campground and three from Cataloochee Cove displayed typical TCD signs including progressive crown thinning, branch flagging, and branch dieback; however, insect holes were not observed. Samples were double bagged in Ziploc plastic bags, sealed in a 19-liter plastic bucket, and transported to the University of Tennessee. Outer bark was removed from the samples and small, elliptical, necrotic cankers were observed. Wood chips (3 to 4 mm2) from cankers were excised and placed on 1/10 strength potato dextrose agar amended with 30 mg/liter streptomycin sulfate and 30 mg/liter chlortetracycline HCL and incubated on a 12-h dark/light cycle at 22°C for 5 to 7 days. Fungal isolates were tentatively identified as G. morbida by using culture morphology, and characteristics of conidiophores and conidia (2). The isolated fungus from the Cataloochee Cove location was grown in 1/10 strength potato dextrose broth at room temperature for 2 weeks. Isolates from Big Creek Campground were contaminated and were not analyzed further. Fungal colonies were tan to light yellow. Conidia were tan, subcylindrical, and catenulate. Conidiophores were multibranched, verticillate, and verrucose. To verify the morphological data, DNA was extracted from fungal mycelia using DNeasy Plant Mini Kit (Qiagen, Valencia, CA) according to the manufacturer's published protocol. Isolates from Cataloochee Cove were characterized using ITS1 and ITS4 universal primers (4). The putative G. morbida isolate (GenBank Accession No. KC461929) had ITS sequences that were 100% identical to the G. morbida type isolate CBS124663 (FN434082.1) (2). Additionally, fungal DNA from Cataloochee Cove was amplified using G. morbida-specific microsatellite loci (GS04, GS27, and GS36) (1). PCR products were analyzed with the QIAxcel Capillary Electrophoresis System (Qiagen) and were similar to those previously published (2). To date, all confirmed cases of TCD in the native range of black walnut have been in urban areas, along rural roadsides and/or fence rows. The report in North Carolina is the first finding of G. morbida, the causal agent of TCD, in a forest setting.
References: (1) D. Hadziabdic et al. Conserv. Genet. Resources 4:287, 2012. (2) M. Kolarik et al. Mycologia 103:325, 2011. (3) N. Tisserat et al. Plant Health Progr. doi:10.1094/PHP-2011-0630-01-BR, 2011. (4) T. J. White et al. Page 315 in: PCR Protocols: A Guide to Methods and Applications. M. A. Innis et al., eds. Academic Press, San Diego, CA, 1990.
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