Department of Plant Pathology, University of California, Davis, c/o U.S. Agricultural Research Station, 1636 E. Alisal Street, Salinas 93905.
Since 1995, lettuce in coastal California, where more than half of the crop in North America is grown, has consistently suffered from severe outbreaks of Verticillium wilt. The disease is confined to this region, although the pathogen (Verticillium dahliae) and the host are present in other crop production regions in California. Migration of the pathogen with infested spinach seed was previously documented, but the geographic sources of the pathogen, as well as the impact of lettuce seed sparsely infested with V. dahliae produced outside coastal California on the pathogen population in coastal California remain unclear. Population analyses of V. dahliae were completed using 16 microsatellite markers on isolates from lettuce plants in coastal California, infested lettuce seed produced in the neighboring Santa Clara Valley of California, and spinach seed produced in four major spinach seed production regions: Chile, Denmark, the Netherlands, and the United States (Washington State). California produces 80% of spinach in the United States and all seed planted with the majority infested by V. dahliae comes from the above four sources. Three globally distributed genetic populations were identified, indicating sustained migration among these distinct geographic regions with multiple spinach crops produced each year and repeated every year in coastal California. The population structure of V. dahliae from coastal California lettuce plants was heavily influenced by migration from spinach seed imported from Denmark and Washington. Conversely, the sparsely infested lettuce seed had limited or no contribution to the Verticillium wilt epidemic in coastal California. The global trade in plant and seed material is likely contributing to sustained shifts in the population structure of V. dahliae, affecting the equilibrium of native populations, and likely affecting disease epidemiology.