Department of Plant Pathology, University of California, Davis.
Verticillium wilts are important vascular wilt diseases that affect many crops and ornamentals in different regions of the world. Verticillium wilts are caused by members of the ascomycete genus Verticillium, a small group of 10 species that are related to the agents of anthracnose caused by Colletotrichum species. Verticillium has a long and complicated taxonomic history with controversies about species boundaries and long overlooked cryptic species, which confused and limited our knowledge of the biology of individual species. We first review the taxonomic history of Verticillium, provide an update and explanation of the current system of classification and compile host range and geographic distribution data for individual species from internal transcribed spacer (ITS) GenBank records. Using Verticillium as an example, we show that species names are a poor vehicle for archiving and retrieving information, and that species identifications should always be backed up by DNA sequence data and DNA extracts that are made publicly available. If such a system were made a prerequisite for publication, all species identifications could be evaluated retroactively, and our knowledge of the biology of individual species would be immune from taxonomic changes, controversy and misidentification. Adoption of this system would improve quarantine practices and the management of diseases caused by various plant pathogens.