U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Waste Management and Forage Research Unit, P.O. Box 5367, Mississippi State, MS 39762
Sclerotinia trifoliorum and Sclerotium rolfsii are pathogens for which similar mechanisms of parasitism have been proposed. This suggested that resistance to these pathogens may be related in a common host plant. This study was undertaken to determine whether selection for quantitative resistance to Sclerotinia trifoliorum in alfalfa also increases resistance to Sclerotium rolfsii as expressed in excised leaf tissues and whole plants. Resistance in excised leaf tissues was evaluated according to the rate of necrosis induced by Sclerotium rolfsii following inoculation with mycelium. Resistance to Sclerotium rolfsii in whole plants was evaluated according to their survival following crown inoculations. Three alfalfa populations previously selected from cv. Delta for quantitative resistance to Sclerotinia trifoliorum exhibited enhanced resistance to Sclerotium rolfsii, in comparison with Delta or with susceptible populations, in excised leaf tissues. When whole plants of Delta and two of these populations, Sclerotinia trifoliorum resistant (STR) and Mississippi Sclerotinia resistant (MSR), were inoculated with Sclerotium rolfsii at 3 to 8 weeks of age, significant (P = 0.01) differences in survival were attributed to plant age at inoculation and alfalfa populations. Survival of both MSR and STR was significantly (P = 0.05) greater than for Delta; the best differential results were obtained by inoculating plants 5 to 7 weeks old. To evaluate relationships of resistance to Sclerotinia trifoliorum and Sclerotium rolfsii over a broader genetic background, additional populations were selected for resistance to Sclerotinia trifoliorum from four other alfalfa cultivars by leaf-inoculation techniques, and this resistance was confirmed by whole-plant inoculations. In excised leaf tissues, all four of these populations also expressed enhanced resistance to Sclerotium rolfsii in comparison with either parent cultivars or populations of comparable size selected at random. These results establish that selection for quantitative resistance to Sclerotinia trifoliorum in alfalfa also confers enhanced resistance to Sclerotium rolfsii as expressed in excised leaf tissues and whole plants. Results suggest, therefore, that genes for quantitative resistance to Sclerotinia trifoliorum and Sclerotium rolfsii in alfalfa are likely to be synonymous, overlapping, or closely linked.