Field resistance to fire blight in a diverse apple (Malus sp.) germplasm collection.
Incidence and severity of fire blight [Erwinia amylovora (Burr.) Winslow, Broadhurst, Buchanan, Krumwiede, Rogers, and Smith] following field infection were recorded using families resulting primarily from open-pollination of Malus sylvestris (L.) Mill. var. domestica (Borkh.) Mansf. cultivars and a few other Malus Mill. sp. The families were structured as three sublines, planted in three successive years (1992 to 1994), of a diverse population of apple germplasm established at HortResearch, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand. The incidence of fire blight varied among the sublines with the oldest planting exhibiting more fire blight. Flowering trees were more likely to be infected than nonflowering trees, in terms of both incidence and severity. Furthermore, the level of fire blight was related to flowering date, with later flowering trees having higher levels. Thus, family means and narrow-sense heritability estimates were computed after first adjusting the fire blight score for flowering date by fitting a linear model. Provenance of origin of the maternal parent explained little variation except that M. sieversii Lebed. families were more resistant than M. sylvestris var. domestica families in one subline. Family means computed using all trees, and those from only flowering trees were highly correlated. Families from open-pollination of M. honanensis Rehder and M. xhartwiggii Koehne females were among the more susceptible. Those from several European M. sylvestris var. domestica cultivars as well as from M. baccata (L.) Borkh. and M. toringoides (Rehder) Hughes females were among the more resistant families. Narrow-sense heritability estimates ranged from 0.05 to 0.85 depending on the subline, with most estimates between 0.12 and 0.36. They were higher in the two older sublines that consisted primarily of open-pollinated families from M. sylvestris var. domestica, and lower in the younger subline that consisted primarily of M. sieversii, due to lower incidence and severity in the latter subline. Breeders who consider potential complications of juvenility, tree size, and flowering date in relation to infection periods should be able to exploit field epidemics to perform effective selection.