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Keywords:

  • pathogen aggressiveness;
  • mycotoxin production;
  • saprophytic fitness

Abstract

Crown rot and head blight of wheat are caused by the same Fusarium species. To better understand their biology, this study has compared 30 isolates of the three dominant species using 13 pathogenic and saprophytic fitness measures including aggressiveness for the two diseases, saprophytic growth and fecundity and deoxynivalenol (DON) production from saprophytic colonization of grain and straw. Pathogenic fitness was generally linked to DON production in infected tissue. The superior crown rot fitness of Fusarium pseudograminearum was linked to high DON production in the stem base tissue, while Fusarium culmorum and Fusarium graminearum had superior head blight fitness with high DON production in grains. Within each species, some isolates had similar aggressiveness for both diseases but differed in DON production in infected tissue to indicate that more than one mechanism controlled aggressiveness. All three species produced more DON when infecting living host tissue compared with saprophytic colonization of grain or straw, but there were significant links between these saprophytic fitness components and aggressiveness. As necrotrophic pathogens spend a part of their life cycle on dead organic matter, saprophytic fitness is an important component of their overall fitness. Any management strategy must target weaknesses in both pathogenic fitness and saprophytic fitness.