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The influence of genetics, defensive chemistry and the fungal microbiome on disease outcome in whitebark pine trees

Bullington, Lorinda S., Lekberg, Ylva, Sniezko, Richard, Larkin, Beau
Molecular plant pathology 2018 v.19 no.8 pp. 1847-1858
Cronartium ribicola, Pinus albicaulis, breeding programs, chemical defenses, community structure, disease course, disease severity, endangered species, endophytes, environmental impact, forests, fungal communities, fungi, genetics, genotype, hosts, microbiome, pathogens, seedlings, terpenoids, tissues, tree breeding, trees, United States
The invasive fungal pathogen Cronartium ribicola infects and kills whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis) throughout western North America. Whitebark pine has been proposed for listing under the Endangered Species Act in the USA, and the loss of this species is predicted to have severe impacts on ecosystem composition and function in high‐elevation forests. Numerous fungal endophytes live inside whitebark pine tissues and may influence the severity of C. ribicola infection, either directly by inhibition of pathogen growth or indirectly by the induction of chemical defensive pathways in the tree. Terpenes, a form of chemical defence in pine trees, can also influence disease. In this study, we characterized fungal endophyte communities in whitebark pine seedlings before and after experimental inoculation with C. ribicola, monitored disease progression and compared fungal community composition in susceptible vs. resistant seedlings in a common garden. We analysed the terpene composition of these same seedlings. Seed family identity or maternal genetics influenced both terpenes and endophyte communities. Terpene and endophyte composition correlated with disease severity, and terpene concentrations differed in resistant vs. susceptible seedlings. These results suggest that the resistance to C. ribicola observed in natural whitebark pine populations is caused by the combined effects of genetics, endophytes and terpenes within needle tissue, in which initial interactions between microbes and hosts take place. Tree genotype, terpene and microbiome combinations associated with healthy trees could help to predict or reduce disease severity and improve outcomes of future tree breeding programmes.