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Role of ascospores and conidia in the initiation and spread of South American leaf blight in a rubber tree plantation

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Abstract

Microcyclus ulei, the fungus causing South American leaf blight (SALB) on rubber tree leaves, produces two main types of spores: ascospores and conidia. To assess their respective epidemiological role, a field experiment was conducted in French Guiana over 3 years. Tree phenology, disease severity and climate variables were recorded while airborne spores were trapped and quantified. Ascospores were shown to play an essential role in the perpetuation of the disease outside the host's growth periods, in the resumption of epidemics, and in the spread of the disease to disease-free zones. Conidia were trapped in visibly infected plots only, during periods of host growth. Disseminated over short distances and present only temporarily on leaves, the conidia enabled the disease to spread stepwise when the climate was conducive. Segmentation analysis revealed that the duration of high relative humidity was the climatic variable most related to ascospore trapping. Ascospore release did not require low temperatures. Considering the essential role of the ascospores in the initiation and spread of disease, artificial defoliation as a means of reducing the inoculum pressure during tree refoliation is proposed to control SALB. To check the validity of this method, a survey over several years of natural defoliation–refoliation in relation to climate and other leaf diseases is needed.

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