Distribution of Candidatus Liberibacter species in eastern Africa, and the first report of Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus in Kenya.
Huanglongbing (HLB) is a serious disease of Citrus sp. worldwide. In Africa and the Mascarene Islands, a similar disease is known as African citrus greening (ACG) and is associated with the bacterium Candidatus Liberibacter africanus (Laf). In recent years, Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus (Las) associated with the severe HLB has been reported in Ethiopia. Thus, we aimed to identify the Liberibacter species affecting citrus, the associated vectors in Eastern Africa and their ecological distribution. We assessed the presence of generic Liberibacter in symptomatic leaf samples by quantitative PCR. Subsequently, we sequenced the 50 S ribosomal protein L10 (rplJ) gene region in samples positive for Liberibacters and identified the species by comparison with public sequence data using phylogenetic reconstruction and genetic distances. We detected generic Liberibacter in 26%, 21% and 66% of plants tested from Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya, respectively. The rplJ sequences revealed the most prevalent Liberibacters in Uganda and Ethiopia were LafCl (22%) and Las (17%), respectively. We detected Las in Kenya for the first time from three sites in the coastal region. Finally, we modelled the potential habitat suitability of Las in Eastern Africa using MaxEnt. The projection showed large areas of suitability for the pathogen in the three countries surveyed. Moreover, the potential distribution in Eastern Africa covered important citrus-producing parts of Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, and included regions where the disease has not been reported. These findings will guide in the development of an integrated pest management strategy to ACG/HLB management in Africa.