Assessment of Boeremia exigua var. rhapontica, as a biological control agent of Russian knapweed (Rhaponticum repens).
Russian knapweed (Rhaponticum repens (L.) Hidalgo) is an herbaceous perennial weed that was introduced and has become invasive in the United States, particularly in the semi-arid west. It is characterized by its extensive root system, low seed production, and persistence. The weed has caused serious reductions in yields and crop value and may significantly devalue the land itself. Conventional control strategies have been inadequate because of the size of infestations and economic and environmental costs of control. Biological control has been a sought-after potential solution to this weed problem. In the summer of 2002, diseased R. repens plants were collected near Cankiri, Turkey, and the facultative saprophytic fungus Boeremia exigua isolate FDWSRU 02-059 was isolated from diseased plants. Bayesian analysis of the actin, beta-tubulin, calmodulin, elongation factor, and ITS genes, of 66 isolates, representing the ten species of Boeremia and the 11 varieties of B. exigua, including FDWSRU 02-059, showed that the isolate is a unique genetic entity and was named B. exigua var. rhapontica Berner, Woudenberg & Tunali, var. nov. MycoBank MB809363. Disease incidence and severity data from host-range determination tests conducted at 25°C, the optimum temperature for growth and sporulation of B. ex. rhapontica, with adequate dew periods, were combined with a genetic distance matrix based on ITS sequences of 66 plant species related to R. repens. The combined disease and genetic data were analyzed by mixed model equations to produce best linear unbiased predictors (BLUPs), standard errors, and P > t values, in t-tests against zero, for disease incidence and severity for each species. BLUPs of disease incidence were significantly different from zero only for three Rhaponticum spp. while BLUPs of disease severity rankings were significantly different from zero only for R. repens, Rhaponticum carthamoides, Rhaponticum uniflorum, and Leuzea berardioides. Best linear unbiased predictors for differences in above-ground dry weights between control and inoculated plants of a subset of the species evaluated were not significant. However, above-ground damage by B. ex. rhapontica to R. repens was nearly twice that for any other species, except Rhaponticum species.