First, second, and third authors: Faculty of Life Sciences, Bar-Ilan University, Ramat Gan 52900, Israel; and fourth author: School of Biological Sciences, Wales University, Bangor, U.K.
Two field experiments were conducted to study the effect of overhead sprinkling irrigation on oospore formation by the late blight fungus Phytophthora infestans in potato. Total rain (natural + sprinkling) accumulated in treatments of experiment 1 (winter 1997 to 1998) were 765, 287, and 219 mm and treatments of experiment 2 (winter 1999 to 2000) were 641, 193, and 129 mm. Sporangia from 11 isolates of P. infestans were combined in eight pairs, seven of A1 and A2 and one of A2 and A2 mating type, and were sprayed on field-grown potato crops (42 plants per plot at 7 m2 each) and examined for their ability to form oospores in the host tissues. In experiment 1, oospores were recorded in a total of 132 of 1,680 leaflets (7.9%), 24 of 105 stems, and 2 of 90 tubers. In experiment 2, oospores were recorded in 40 of 519 leaflets (7.7%), but not in any of the 90 stems or the 45 tubers examined. Both the proportion of leaflets containing oospores and the number of oospores per leaflet increased with time after inoculation and were dependent on the rain regime, the position of leaves on the plant, and the isolate pair combination. In both field trials, increasing the rainfall significantly enhanced oospore production in leaves. Leaf samples collected from the soil surface had significantly more oospores than those collected from the midcanopy. Two pairs in experiment 1 were more fertile than the others, whereas the pair used in experiment 2 was the least fertile. The total number of oospores per leaflet usually ranged from 10 to 100 in experiment 1, but only from 2 to 10 in experiment 2. Maximal oospore counts in the field were 200 and 50 in experiments 1 and 2, respectively, but ranged from ≈2,000 to 12,000 oospores per leaflet in detached leaves in the laboratory. We concluded that P. infestans can produce oospores in the foliage of field-grown potato crops, especially when kept wet by regular overhead sprinkling irrigation, but production was far below that in the laboratory.