Host specificity of Ascochyta spp. infecting legumes of the viciae and cicerae tribes and pathogenicity of an interspecific hybrid.
Ascochyta spp. (teleomorphs: Didymella spp.) infect a number of legumes, including many economically important species, and the diseases they cause represent serious limitations of legume production worldwide. Ascochyta rabiei, A. fabae, A. pisi, A. lentis, and A. viciae-villosae are pathogens of chickpea (Cicer arietinum), faba bean (Vicia faba), pea (Pisum sativum), lentil (Lens culinaris), and hairy vetch (V. villosa), respectively. Inoculations in the greenhouse and in growth chambers demonstrated that A. fabae, A. lentis, A. pisi, A. rabiei, and A. viciae-villosae were host specific. Isolates caused no visible disease symptoms on "nonhost" plants (plants other than the hosts they were originally isolated from) but were recovered consistently from inoculated, surface-disinfested, nonhost tissues. Interspecific crosses of A. pisi × A. fabae and A. viciae-villosae × A. lentis produced pseudothecia with viable ascospores, and the hybrid status of the ascospore progeny was verified by the segregation of mating type and amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP) markers. Interspecific progeny were morphologically normal in culture but exhibited more phenotypic variation compared with progeny from intraspecific crosses. Mating type and the majority of AFLP markers segregated in Mendelian 1:1 ratios in both intraspecific and interspecific crosses. A total of 11 and 7% of AFLP markers showed segregation distortion among progeny from interspecific crosses and intraspecific crosses, respectively; however, this difference was not significant (P=0.90). Only 30 of 114 progeny isolates from the A. fabae × A. pisi cross inoculated in the greenhouse caused lesions on pea and only 4 caused disease on faba bean. In all, 15 of 110 progeny isolates were pathogenic to pea and none were pathogenic to faba bean under growth chamber conditions. Although no obvious postzygotic, intrinsic isolating barriers were identified in any of the interspecific crosses, it appears that host specialization may act as both a prezygotic, ecological isolating barrier and a postzygotic, extrinsic, ecological isolating barrier in these fungi. Host specificity, coupled with low pathogenic fitness of hybrids, may be an important speciation mechanism contributing to the maintenance of host-specific, phylogenetic lineages of these fungi.