The genetic structure of populations of the Douglas-fir Swiss needle cast fungus Nothophaeocryptopus gaeumannii in New Zealand.
Swiss needle cast is a foliar disease of Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) that results in premature foliage loss and reduced growth. The causal fungus, Nothophaeocryptopus gaeumannii, was first detected in New Zealand in 1959 and spread throughout the North and South Islands over the following decades. The contemporary genetic structure of the N. gaeumannii population in New Zealand was assessed by analyzing 468 multilocus SSR genotypes (MLGs) from 2,085 N. gaeumannii isolates collected from 32 sites in the North and South Islands. Overall diversity was lower than that reported from native N. gaeumannii populations in the northwestern United States, which was expected given that N. gaeumannii is introduced in New Zealand. Linkage disequilibrium was significantly higher than expected under random mating, suggesting that population structure is clonal. Populations of N. gaeumannii in the North and South Islands were weakly differentiated, and the isolates collected from sites within the islands were moderately differentiated. This suggests that gene flow has occurred between the N. gaeumannii populations in the North and South Islands, and between the local N. gaeumannii populations within each island. Eighteen isolates of N. gaeumannii Lineage 2, which has previously been reported only from western Oregon, were recovered from two sites in the North Island and four sites in the South Island. The most likely explanation for the contemporary distribution of N. gaeumannii in New Zealand is that it was introduced on infected live seedlings through the forestry or ornamental nursery trade, as the fungus is neither seed borne nor saprobic, and the observed population structure is not consistent with a stochastic intercontinental dispersal event.