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Pathogen effects on vegetative and floral odours mediate vector attraction and host exposure in a complex pathosystem

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Abstract

Pathogens can alter host phenotypes in ways that influence interactions between hosts and other organisms, including insect disease vectors. Such effects have implications for pathogen transmission, as well as host exposure to secondary pathogens, but are not well studied in natural systems, particularly for plant pathogens. Here, we report that the beetle-transmitted bacterial pathogen Erwinia tracheiphila – which causes a fatal wilt disease – alters the foliar and floral volatile emissions of its host (wild gourd, Cucurbita pepo ssp. texana) in ways that enhance both vector recruitment to infected plants and subsequent dispersal to healthy plants. Moreover, infection by Zucchini yellow mosaic virus (ZYMV), which also occurs at our study sites, reduces floral volatile emissions in a manner that discourages beetle recruitment and therefore likely reduces the exposure of virus-infected plants to the lethal bacterial pathogen – a finding consistent with our previous observation of dramatically reduced wilt disease incidence in ZYMV-infected plants.

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