First author: Department of Plant Pathology, China Agricultural University, Beijing 100193; and second author: Department of Plant Pathology, University of California–Davis, c/o U.S. Agricultural Research Station, 1636 E. Alisal Street, Salinas, CA 93905.
Verticillium wilt, caused by Verticillium dahliae, is a destructive disease in lettuce, and the pathogen is seedborne. Even though maximum seed infestation rates of <5% have been detected in commercial lettuce seed lots, it is necessary to establish acceptable contamination thresholds to prevent introduction and establishment of the pathogen in lettuce production fields. However, introduction of inoculum into lettuce fields for experimental purposes to determine its long term effects is undesirable. Therefore, we constructed a simulation model to study the spread of Verticillium wilt following pathogen introduction from seed. The model consists of four components: the first for simulating infection of host plants, the second for simulating reproduction of microsclerotia on diseased plants, the third for simulating the survival of microsclerotia, and the fourth for simulating the dispersal of microsclerotia. The simulation results demonstrated that the inoculum density–disease incidence curve parameters and the dispersal gradients affect disease spread in the field. Although a steep dispersal gradient facilitated the establishment of the disease in a new field with a low inoculum density, a long-tail gradient allowed microsclerotia to be dispersed over greater distances, promoting the disease spread in fields with high inoculum density. The simulation results also revealed the importance of avoiding successive lettuce crops in the same field, reducing survival rate of microsclerotia between crops, and the need for breeding resistance against V. dahliae in lettuce cultivars to lower the number of microsclerotia formed on each diseased plant. The simulation results, however, suggested that, even with a low seed infestation rate, the pathogen would eventually become established if susceptible lettuce cultivars were grown consecutively in the same field for many years. A threshold for seed infestation can be established only when two of the three drivers of the disease—(i) low microsclerotia production per diseased plant, (ii) long-tail dispersal gradient, and (iii) low microsclerotia survival between lettuce crops—are present.