Metabarcoding reveals a high diversity of woody host-associated Phytophthora spp. in soils at public gardens and amenity woodlands in Britain.
Forests and woodlands worldwide are being severely impacted by invasive Phytophthora species, with initial outbreaks in some cases occurring on host trees located in public parks and gardens. These highly disturbed sites with diverse planting practices may indeed act as harbours for invasive Phytophthora pathogens which are particularly well adapted to surviving in soil. High throughput Illumina sequencing was used to analyse Phytophthora species diversity in soil samples collected from 14 public garden/amenity woodland sites in northern Britain. Bioinformatic analyses revealed some limitations to using internal transcribed spacer as the barcode region; namely reporting of false positives and ambiguous species matches. Taking this into account, 35 distinct sequences were amplified across the sites, corresponding to 23 known Phytophthora species as well as twelve oomycete sequences with no match to any known Phytophthora species. Phytophthora pseudosyringae and P. austrocedri, both of which cause serious damage to trees and are regarded as fairly recent introductions to Britain, were the two most abundant Phytophthora species detected. There was no evidence that any of the detected Phytophthora species were more associated with any one type of host, healthy or otherwise. This study has demonstrated the ubiquity and diversity of Phytophthora species endemic in highly managed, extensively planted soil environments in Britain. Suggested improvements to the methodology and the practical implications of the findings in terms of mitigating Phytophthora spread and impact are discussed.