Modification of a pollen trap design to capture airborne conidia of Entomophaga maimaiga and detection of conidia by quantitative PCR.
The goal of this study was to develop effective and practical field sampling methods for quantification of aerial deposition of airborne conidia of Entomophaga maimaiga over space and time. This important fungal pathogen is a major cause of larval death in invasive gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar) populations in the United States. Airborne conidia of this pathogen are relatively large (similar in size to pollen), with unusual characteristics, and require specialized methods for collection and quantification. Initially, dry sampling (settling of spores from the air onto a dry surface) was used to confirm the detectability of E. maimaiga at field sites with L. dispar deaths caused by E. maimaiga, using quantitative PCR (qPCR) methods. We then measured the signal degradation of conidial DNA on dry surfaces under field conditions, ultimately rejecting dry sampling as a reliable method due to rapid DNA degradation. We modified a chamber-style trap commonly used in palynology to capture settling spores in buffer. We tested this wet-trapping method in a large-scale (137-km) spore-trapping survey across gypsy moth outbreak regions in Pennsylvania undergoing epizootics, in the summer of 2016. Using 4-day collection periods during the period of late instar and pupal development, we detected variable amounts of target DNA settling from the air. The amounts declined over the season and with distance from the nearest defoliated area, indicating airborne spore dispersal from outbreak areas.