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Efficient Transmission of ‘Candidatus Phytoplasma prunorum’ Is Delayed by Eight Months Due to a Long Latency in Its Host-Alternating Vector

March 2009 , Volume 99 , Number  3
Pages  265 - 273

Gaël Thébaud, Michel Yvon, Rémi Alary, Nicolas Sauvion, and Gérard Labonne

First, second, fourth, and fifth authors: Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA), UMR BGPI, CIRAD TA A-54/K, Campus international de Baillarguet, 34398 Montpellier cedex 5, France; and third author: INRA, UMR DAP, 2 Place Viala, 34060 Montpellier cedex 1, France.

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Accepted for publication 5 December 2008.

Understanding at which spatiotemporal scale a disease causes significant secondary spread has both theoretical and practical implications. We investigated this issue in the case of European stone fruit yellows (ESFY), a quarantine vector-borne phytoplasma disease of Prunus trees. Our work was focused on the processes underlying disease spread: the interplay between the life cycles of the pathogen (‘Candidatus Phytoplasma prunorum’) and of the vector (Cacopsylla pruni). We demonstrated experimentally that C. pruni has only one generation per year and we showed that, at least in southeastern France, C. pruni migrates between conifers in mountainous regions (where it overwinters) and Prunus spp. at lower altitude (where it breeds). In acquisition--inoculation experiments performed with C. pruni over its period of presence on Prunus spp., both immature and mature C. pruni were hardly infectious (0.6%) despite effective phytoplasma acquisition and multiplication. We demonstrated that most immature vectors born on infected plants reach their maximum phytoplasma load (107 genomes per insect) only after migrating to conifers and that, after a life-long retention of the phytoplasma, their transmission efficiency was very high (60%) at the end of winter (when they migrate back to their Prunus host). Thus, most transmissions occur only after an effective latency of 8 months, following vector migrations and overwintering on conifers in mountainous regions. From this transmission cycle, we can infer that local secondary spread of ESFY in apricot orchards is marginal, and recommend that disease management strategies take more into account the processes occurring at a regional scale, including the role of wild Prunus spp. in ESFY epidemics.

Additional keywords:blackthorn, monocyclic, polycyclic, polyetic, primary infection, Prunus spinosa, psyllid, real-time PCR.

The American Phytopathological Society, 2009