Biological control agents for fire blight of apple compared under conditions limiting natural dispersal.
The efficacy of Pantoea agglomerans strain E325 for control of fire blight of apple was determined in comparative field trials involving other bacterial antagonists. Concurrently, the importance of the natural dispersal of bacteria as a complicating factor was assessed. Tests were performed under two sets of conditions, those that allowed for the dispersal of bacteria via honeybee activity and those that minimized it through the use of translucent polyethylene enclosures around single trees. The enclosures also raised daytime temperatures and allowed for controlled wetting, two factors important to the development of blossom blight. Single-antagonist treatments with strain E325, Pseudomonas fluorescens strain A506, and P. agglomerans strain C9-1 were applied to open blossoms on each of 10 enclosed trees and 10 nonenclosed trees. During bloom, suspensions of antagonists (108 CFU/ml) were applied twice with a brush, and a suspension of Erwinia amylovora (107 CFU/ml) was subsequently applied once using the same method. Two days after inoculation with the pathogen, trees were misted to simulate precipitation. Flower-to-flower spread of antagonistic bacteria was less frequent on trees surrounded by plastic enclosures than on nonenclosed trees. The range and statistical separation of means for population size of E. amylovora and disease incidence among treatments were greater for enclosed trees than for nonenclosed trees. Based on these results, the natural spread of antagonists being compared may mask differences in their efficacy as biocontrol agents. Such distortions and resulting misinterpretations could be lessened by separating treatments widely in large orchard blocks and by monitoring microbial populations. Strain E325 from fresh or lyophilized cultures was consistently more effective than standard antagonists in suppressing E. amylovora and reducing disease incidence. To fully assess its potential use for fire blight, larger-scale trials under various conditions will be necessary.