A. Murillo-Williams, Centro para Investigaciones en Granos y Semillas, Universidad de Costa Rica, San José, Costa Rica; and
G. P. Munkvold, Seed Science Center and Department of Plant Pathology, Iowa State University, Ames, IA 50011
Fusarium verticillioides causes seedling decay, stalk rot, ear rot, and mycotoxin contamination (primarily fumonisins) in maize. Systemic infection of maize plants by F. verticillioides can lead to kernel infection, but the frequency of this phenomenon has varied widely among experiments. Variation in the incidence of systemic infection has been attributed to environmental factors. In order to better understand the influence of environment, we investigated the effect of temperature on systemic development of F. verticillioides during vegetative and reproductive stages of plant development. Maize seeds were inoculated with a green fluorescent protein-expressing strain of F. verticillioides, and grown in growth chambers under three different temperature regimes. In the vegetative-stage and reproductive-stage experiments, plants were evaluated at tasseling (VT stage), and at physiological maturity (R6 stage), respectively. Independently of the temperature treatment, F. verticillioides was reisolated from nearly 100% of belowground plant tissues. Frequency of reisolation of the inoculated strain declined acropetally in aboveground internodes at all temperature regimes. At VT, the high-temperature treatment had the highest systemic development of F. verticillioides in aboveground tissues. At R6, incidence of systemic infection was greater at both the high- and low-temperature regimes than at the average-temperature regime. F. verticillioides was isolated from higher internodes in plants at R6, compared to stage VT. The seed-inoculated strain was recovered from kernels of mature plants, although incidence of kernel infection did not differ significantly among treatments. During the vegetative growth stages, temperature had a significant effect on systemic development of F. verticillioides in stalks. At R6, the fungus reached higher internodes in the high-temperature treatment, but temperature did not have an effect on the incidence of kernels (either symptomatic or asymptomatic) or ear peduncles infected with the inoculated strain. These results support the role of high temperatures in promoting systemic infection of maize by F. verticillioides, but plant-to-seed transmission may be limited by other environmental factors that interact with temperature during the reproductive stages.