Navel orangeworm (NOW) damage to almond is correlated with increased incidence of aflatoxin contamination caused by Aspergillus flavus. However, no reports demonstrate a causative relationship between NOW feeding and A. flavus infection. To demonstrate the potential of NOW to act as a vector of A. flavus on almond, NOW eggs were dusted with A. flavus and incubated in microchambers adjacent to but not touching agar plates or almond kernels. Following egg hatch, A. flavus colonies developed on agar along trails left by NOW larvae. Almond kernels damaged with A. flavus-carrying NOW showed higher incidence of A. flavus colonization and aflatoxin contamination than control treatments. Interestingly, levels of aflatoxin in NOW-damaged, A. flavus-infected almond were significantly higher than control treatments, even in the absence of visible fungal growth. Commercial almond orchards had a relatively low level of contamination with Aspergillus section Flavi in spring and early summer and a high level during summer, corresponding with the higher level of NOW infestation of the crop. Our study demonstrates that NOW is capable of vectoring A. flavus to almond, and that monitoring and sorting of almond kernels for insect damage is warranted to limit aflatoxin contamination potential both before and after harvesting.
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