First and second authors: School of Plant Sciences, and second author: United States Department of Agriculture–Agricultural Research Service and School of Plant Sciences, The University of Arizona, Tucson.
In the Rio Grande Valley of Texas (RGV), values of maize and cottonseed crops are significantly reduced by aflatoxin contamination. Aflatoxin contamination of susceptible crops is the product of communities of aflatoxin producers and the average aflatoxin-producing potentials of these communities influence aflatoxin contamination risk. Cropping pattern influences community composition and, thereby, the epidemiology of aflatoxin contamination. In 2004, Aspergillus parasiticus was isolated from two fields previously cropped to sugarcane but not from 23 fields without recent history of sugarcane cultivation. In 2004 and 2005, A. parasiticus composed 18 to 36% of Aspergillus section Flavi resident in agricultural soils within sugarcane-producing counties. A. parasiticus was not detected in counties that do not produce sugarcane. Aspergillus section Flavi soil communities within sugarcane-producing counties differed significantly dependent on sugarcane cropping history. Fields cropped to sugarcane within the previous 5 years had greater quantities of A. parasiticus (mean = 16 CFU/g) than fields not cropped to sugarcane (mean = 0.1 CFU/g). The percentage of Aspergillus section Flavi composed of A. parasiticus increased to 65% under continuous sugarcane cultivation and remained high the first season of rotation out of sugarcane. Section Flavi communities in fields rotated to non-sugarcane crops for 3 to 5 years were composed of <5% A. parasiticus, and fields with no sugarcane history averaged only 0.2% A. parasiticus. The section Flavi community infecting RGV sugarcane stems ranged from 95% A. parasiticus in billets prepared for commercial planting to 52% A. parasiticus in hand-collected sugarcane stems. Vegetative compatibility assays and multilocus phylogenies verified that aflatoxin contamination of raw sugar was previously attributed to similar A. parasiticus in Japan. Association of closely related A. parasiticus genotypes with sugarcane produced in Japan and RGV, frequent infection of billets by these genotypes, and the ephemeral nature of A. parasiticus in RGV soils suggests global transport with sugarcane planting material.