Phylogenetic and population genetic analyses reveal three distinct lineages of the invasive brown root-rot pathogen, Phellinus noxius, and bioclimatic modeling predicts differences in associated climate niches.
Phellinus noxius, the cause of brown root-rot disease, is an invasive fungal pathogen that causes a white rot among woody plants in Asia, Oceania, and Africa. Because the origin and diversity of this pathogen are unknown, it is difficult to predict its behavior and invasive capacity, especially under future climate-change scenarios. We characterized genetic relationships and ecological differences among P. noxius lineages across eastern Asia and Oceania to better understand evolutionary responses of the pathogen to environmental changes. Sequences of four loci (nuclear large subunit, internal transcribed spacers, partial RNA polymerase II, and partial translation elongation factor - 1 alpha) from 95 P. noxius isolates were used for genetic analyses. Our analyses revealed three genetically distinct lineages of P. noxius: (1) eastern Asia (Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Malaysia); (2) western Oceania/Japan/Taiwan (including Australia, Palau, Guam, Saipan, Yap, Pohnpei, and Kosrae) with some isolates from Japan and Taiwan; and (3) a distinct group from American Samoa. Population genetic analyses highlighted admixture and migration among the three lineages. Climate-based, species distribution models were used to predict ecological patterns of P. noxius for two genetic lineages: eastern Asia and western Oceania/Japan/Taiwan. Contemporary bioclimatic models depicted potential areas at high risk for P. noxius invasion, and predicted that suitable climate space (potential distribution) is lineage specific. Trade of important economic crops worldwide coupled with changing climates could exacerbate the spread of P. noxius into new geographic areas with suitable habitats for brown root-rot disease.