Management of fire blight: a case study in microbial ecology.
Suppression of the blossom-blight phase of fire blight is a key point in the management of this destructive and increasingly important disease of apple and pear. For blossom infection to occur, the causal bacterium, Erwinia amylovora, needs to increase its population size through an epiphytic phase that occurs on stigmatic surfaces. Knowledge of the ecology of the pathogen on stigmas has been key to the development of predictive models for infection and optimal timing of antibiotic sprays. Other bacterial epiphytes also colonize stigmas where they can interact with and suppress epiphytic growth of the pathogen. A commercially available bacterial antagonist of E. amylovora (BlightBan, Pseudomonas fluorescens A506) can be included in antibiotic spray programs. Integration of bacterial antagonists with chemical methods suppresses populations of the pathogen and concomitantly, fills the ecological niche provided by the stigma with a non-pathogenic, competing microorganism. Further integration of biologically based methods with conventional management of blossom blight may be achievable by increasing the diversity of applied antagonists, by refining predictive models to incorporate antagonist use, and by gaining an improved understanding of the interactions that occur among indigenous and applied bacterial epiphytes, antibiotics and the physical environment.