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First Report of Phytophthora megasperma Causing Decline and Death on Celtis australis in Italy

January 2015 , Volume 99 , Number  1
Pages  155.3 - 155.3

L. Luongo, A. Haegi, and M. Galli, Consiglio Nazionale per la Ricerca e la Sperimentazione in Agricoltura, Centro di Ricerca per la Patologia Vegetale (CRA-PAV), 00156 Roma, Italy; S. Berti, Umbraflor srl, 06038 Perugia, Italy; and S. Vitale and A. Belisario, Consiglio Nazionale per la Ricerca e la Sperimentazione in Agricoltura, Centro di Ricerca per la Patologia Vegetale (CRA-PAV), 00156 Roma, Italy

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Accepted for publication 5 October 2014.

European hackberry (Celtis australis L.) is a popular shade tree mainly planted in southern Europe and known to be tolerant to dry and poor soils. In early autumn 2013, hackberry plants grown in soil in a commercial nursery located in the floodplain in Umbria region showed symptoms of wilting, dieback, and death. Up to 100% of the canopy was affected, and over 60% of the plants were symptomatic or dead. A Phytophthora species was consistently isolated from symptomatic 6-year-old plants by plating small pieces of collar and root tissues, cut from the margin of dark-brown necrotic lesions, onto P5ARPH selective medium (4). Pure cultures were obtained by single-hyphal transfers on potato dextrose agar (PDA). Sporangia, produced on pepper seeds in soil extract solution (3), were nonpapillate and noncaducous, measuring 34.0 to 85.0 × 22.0 to 50.0 μm. Oospores had an average diameter of 44 μm with mostly paragynous antheridia. On the basis of morphological features, the isolates were identified as P. megasperma Drech. (2). The identity was confirmed by sequencing the cytochrome c oxidase subunit II (Cox II) (5), which gave 100% identity with P. megasperma sequences available in GenBank (GU222070), and by sequencing the internal transcribed spacer (ITS) using the universal primers ITS4 and ITS6, which gave 99% identity with the AF266794 sequence from Cooke et al. (1). The sequences of one isolate (AB239) were deposited in the European Nucleotide Archive (ENA) with accession numbers HG973451 and HG973450 for Cox II and ITS, respectively. Pathogenicity tests were conducted in the greenhouse with isolate AB239 on eight 2-year-old potted European hackberry plants. Mycelial plugs (5 mm diameter) cut from the margins of actively growing 8-day-old cultures on PDA were inserted through the epidermis to the phloem at the collar level. Two plants were used as controls and treated as described above except that sterile PDA plugs replaced the inoculum. Inoculated plants were kept for 4 weeks in a greenhouse at 24 ± 2°C. During that period, inoculated plants showed wilting symptoms similar to those observed in the field. Lesions were evident at all the inoculation points progressing downward to the roots. Colonies of Phytophthora were isolated from the margins of lesions and identified as P. megasperma, thus fulfilling Koch's postulates. Controls remained symptomless. P. megasperma taxonomy is rather complex since it embraces different subgroups, including host specialized forms (formae speciales), some of which are recognized as biological species. Based on morphological and molecular data presented here, the Phytophthora isolates from hackberry belong to P. megasperma sensu stricto, which is included in the “pathogenic to a broad range of hosts” (BHR) group (1). This pathogen is rather polyphagous, attacking mainly fruit and ornamental woody plants, commonly Prunus spp., Malus spp., and Actinidia deliciosa. Like other homothallic Phytophthora species, it is particularly dangerous due to its abundant production of thick-walled resting oospores that enable long-term survival in the soil. To our knowledge this is the first report of P. megasperma sensu stricto (1) on C. australis and its family Ulmaceae/Cannabaceae.

References: (1) D. E. L. Cooke et al. Fungal Genet. Biol. 30:17, 2000. (2) D. C. Erwin and O. K. Ribeiro, American Phytopathological Society, St. Paul, MN, 1996. (3) E. Ilieva et al. Eur. J. Plant Path. 101:623, 1995. (4) S. N. Jeffers and S. B. Martin. Plant Dis. 70:1038, 1986. (5) F. N. Martin and P. W. Tooley. Mycologia 95:269, 2003.

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