Sporulation potential, symptom expression and detection of Phytophthora ramorum on larch needles and other foliar hosts.
Phytophthora ramorum has caused extensive dieback and mortality of commercially grown Japanese larch (Larix kaempferi) in many parts of the UK, as infected foliage generates spores that then cause bark lesions and girdling cankers on trees. Following inoculation, individual needles of Japanese, European (L. decidua) and hybrid (L. × eurolepis) larch infected with P. ramorum can produce thousands of sporangia. Mean numbers of sporangia ranged from 806 to 1778 per cm2 (hybrid larch and Japanese larch, respectively), surpassing mean sporulation levels on foliar hosts previously associated with P. ramorum outbreaks in Britain, namely Rhododendron ponticum, Castanea sativa and Vaccinium myrtillus. Sporulation on larch even exceeded that of California bay laurel (Umbellularia californica), which drives the sudden oak death epidemic in California. Inoculation of foliage selected at different times of year revealed that foliage age significantly affected sporulation levels, but this varied with host species. However, symptom development and sporulation were often not correlated. Symptoms on larch were frequently insignificant or even absent at certain times of year, with sometimes the only evidence of infection being the emergence of sporangia from needles, without any sign of discolouration or necrosis. Plating infected but symptomless needles onto Phytophthora selective medium also often failed to yield the pathogen. Symptomless infection of larch needles apparently occurs, but is only detectable with microscopy. More generally, it is suggested that diagnosis of Phytophthora infection in conifers is often underestimated due to isolation difficulties and delayed symptom expression.