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Summary

The ascomycete Nematostoma parasiticum (syn.: Herpotrichia parasitica) is commonly perceived as the causal agent of the so-called Herpotrichia needle browning in silver fir (Abies alba). However, its fruitbodies are rarely present on symptomatic needles, which are also colonized by many presumably saprotrophic fungi. We compared the internal colonization of healthy and symptomatic needles on two sites in Poland. In addition, the endophytic mycobiota in needles of various age was recorded on two other sites without disease symptoms. Fungi were isolated from 95.6% of the dead needles and from 62.9% of the living needles on symptomatic trees, whereas on healthy trees, only 45.0% of the needles were colonized internally. Colonization frequency increased with needle age. From a total of 2017 isolates, 116 fungal taxa were identified. Frequency of many species was influenced by needle type. Anthostomella formosa, Gloeosporidiella sp., Hypoxylon fragiforme, Xylaria hypoxylon and X. polymorpha were the most common fungi isolated from living needles. In symptomless living needles, fungi occurred significantly more often in the basal than in the apical parts. In dead needles, the most common fungi were Alternaria alternata, Paraconiothyrium sporulosum, Fusarium sp., Mollisia cinerea, Rhizoctonia sp., Rhizosphaera oudemansii, Thysanophora penicillioides, Xylaria hypoxylon and X. polymorpha. Rhizoctonia sp. was the most frequently isolated fungus in dead needles (23.4%) but occurred rarely also in living needles (0.3–1.1%). The supposed pathogen N. parasiticum was detected only sporadically (at most in 0.6% of the needles). Our findings demonstrate the need for understanding the role of Rhizoctonia sp. in Herpotrichia needle browning disease aetiology.