Genetic variation and host specificity of Phytophthora citrophthora isolates causing branch cankers in Clementine trees in Spain
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Considerable tree losses have been observed during the past few years in Spain due to Phytophthora branch canker of clementines caused by Phytophthora citrophthora. The emergence of this disease led to the speculation that either the pathogen has evolved increasing its aggressiveness or specificity to clementines. A total of 134 isolates of P. citrophthora collected from 2003 to 2005 in 135 citrus orchards in Spain and 22 reference isolates were analyzed genotypically and phenotypically to determine the structure of the population. Genotypic diversity was evaluated by means of Inter-Simple Sequence Repeat (ISSR) markers. Among the phenotypic characteristics examined, sporangial characters, sexual behavior, growth rates and colony morphology of the isolates at different temperatures were studied. The aggressiveness and host-specificity of selected isolates were evaluated by pathogenicity tests on sweet oranges and clementines under field conditions. Phytophthora branch canker of clementines was associated mainly with one genotype (P-1), which included 88% of the isolates obtained from branches. Strains isolated years before the first disease outbreak clustered also with this major genotype, thus it may be considered as a predominant population. Thirteen other minor genotypes were determined, but most contained only one isolate. Although there was wide variation in the morphological and physiological characters, all Phytophthora isolates obtained from branch cankers were sexually sterile and showed a characteristic petalloid colony pattern. As in previous greenhouse studies, pathogenicity tests under field conditions demonstrated that clementines and their hybrids were more susceptible to P. citrophthora than sweet oranges. However, no evidence was found to support the hypothesis that the emergence of the disease was associated with more aggressive or host-specific forms of P. citrophthora.