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Genetic resistance to Hymenoscyphus pseudoalbidus limits fungal growth and symptom occurrence in Fraxinus excelsior

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Summary

The European common ash (Fraxinus excelsior) is currently threatened by a pathogenic fungus, Hymenoscyphus pseudoalbidus, which seems to enter the trees through the leaves. Continuous assessments of 39 clones in Danish field trials have shown that there are significant differences in the susceptibility of clones to the new disease. Interestingly, clones that showed early leaf senescence in the autumn were in general less susceptible to the disease than late-senescing clones. Thus, variation in susceptibility could be owing to phenological differences associated with the infection biology. To test whether differences in susceptibility are driven by genetically based factors other than phenology, we compared inoculations with H. pseudoalbidus on four highly susceptible clones with those of four less susceptible clones. Development of necrosis was hereafter followed regularly. The growth of the fungus in the inner bark was further detected with species-specific PCR primers. The severity of the response to infection shows significant differentiation among clones and significant correlation with clone susceptibility, as assessed from natural infections in field trials. The fungus was detected in tissues immediately surrounding the necrosis but showed some signs of endophytic growth. The results suggest that healthier clones are able to limit the growth and spread of the fungus and thereby minimize the occurrence of symptoms. This gives hope for the future preservation of F. excelsior in Europe through selection and breeding.

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