PloS one

Clonality and geographic structure of host-specialized populations of Corynespora cassiicola causing emerging target spot epidemics in the southeastern United States.

PMID 30321244


Corynespora cassiicola is a destructive plant-pathogenic fungus causing widespread target spot epidemics, including outbreaks on cotton, soybean, and tomato in the southeastern United States. Previous studies revealed that populations from the three hosts are genetically distinct and host specialized. Although variation in aggressiveness to cotton and tomato were observed, no genetic diversity was detected within populations sampled from each of these hosts. We aimed to gain a better understanding of the emerging target spot epidemics by developing microsatellite markers for C. cassiicola to assess genetic variation, population structure, and to infer modes of reproduction and mechanisms of dispersal. Two hundred sixty-five isolates from cotton, soybean, tomato, and other host plants were genotyped with 13 microsatellite markers. Genotypic diversity revealed genetic variation within each of the populations collected from different hosts, with the population from cotton dominated by clonal genotypes and showing the least genetic diversity. In addition, C. cassiicola populations on different host species were genetically distinct and structured based on host species. No association between genetic and geographic distances was identified in the tomato populations, and the association in cotton populations was low. However, significant regional geographic structure was detected in the soybean populations of C. cassiicola. These results further support previous findings of introduced host specialized isolates or the evolution of more aggressive strains on each host. The lack of geographic structure suggests that the clones on cotton and tomato spread rapidly, or similar founder populations were established by human-mediated dispersal, and that dispersal is not limited. However, regional geographic structure of populations on soybean suggests limited dispersal among more established populations of C. cassiicola, or genetic differences in founder populations that colonized different geographic areas.