Characterization and evaluation of Ramularia crupinae, a candidate for biological control, and of its host, two varieties of Crupina vulgaris in the United States.
Crupina vulgaris (common crupina) is an invasive annual plant of rangelands and pastures in the United States (USA). There are two varieties of C. vulgaris in the USA that differ morphologically and biologically, particularly in requirements for bolting. A vernalization protocol enabled synchronization of bolting, thus facilitating concurrent comparative studies of both varieties. Leaf-removal experiments suggest that all leaves provide photosynthate for seed fill, but the cauline leaves, on a relative basis, produced 1.7-4 times more seed per g than rosette leaves, suggesting disease on the cauline leaves has greater potential to reduce seed production than disease on rosette leaves. Ramularia crupinae, a leaf-spotting fungus, was evaluated for biological control. A single inoculation caused a 47% reduction in root dry weight, and seed yield was reduced by 39% as the number of inoculations increased from 0 (controls) to 3. None of 35 non-target taxa, i.e., species, cultivars, and varieties, in the tribe Cardueae was damaged from inoculation by R. crupinae, including safflower, which developed a few, small necrotic spots on old leaves. Best Linear Unbiased Predictors (BLUPs), generated by a mixed model analysis of disease reaction and genetic relatedness data, indicated that only C. vulgaris varieties were susceptible to disease; i.e., BLUPs were significantly different from zero. None of the other taxa had BLUP estimators that were significantly different from zero and were, therefore, determined to be not susceptible to disease by R. crupinae. Results suggest that R. crupinae is a potentially good candidate for biological control of this important weed pest and would likely not affect other species of importance in the USA.