Infection periods of Phytophthora pluvialis and Phytophthora kernoviae in relation to weather variables and season in Pinus radiata forests in New Zealand

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Ian A. Hood
Sean Husheer
Judy F. Gardner
Tony W. Evanson
Gordon Tieman
Catherine Banham
Liam A.H. Wright
Stuart Fraser


epidemiology, infection period, needle disease, Phytophthora kernoviae, Phytophthora pluvialis, Pinus radiata, red needle cast, seedlings, weather variables


Background: Red needle cast caused by Phytophthora pluvialis Reeser, Sutton & E. Hansen, and less frequently P. kernoviae Brasier, Beales & S.A.Kirk, is an important foliar disease of Pinus radiata D.Don (radiata pine) in plantations throughout parts of New Zealand. Significant growth loss occurs following years when severe outbreaks occur. Aerial spraying with a copper-based fungicide has potential for disease control. Research is being carried out to optimise application timing, supported by complementary studies to understand RNC epidemiology.

Methods: In order to determine the pathogen infection periods, a field trial was conducted over two years at two forests in the Central North Island of New Zealand. Batches of potted radiata pine seedlings were placed beneath diseased pine stands at fortnightly intervals, before returning them to an open nursery area for assessments of infection every two weeks (based on visual symptoms and qPCR) over a period of three months. A hybrid modelling approach was employed to establish relationships between the proportion of plants showing symptoms and weather conditions during the fortnight of exposure and previous fortnights. Gradient boosting machine learning analyses were used to identify the most important weather variables, followed by analysis of these by generalised mixed effects models, generalised least square models and ordinary least square models.

Results: Development of RNC symptoms and detection of Phytophthora pluvialis and P. kernoviae on exchange seedlings was greatest for those exposed between April and September (Southern Hemisphere mid-autumn to early-spring). At this time, temperatures, solar radiation and evapotranspiration were lower, and rainfall and foliage wetness were plentiful. Modelling identified temperature and relative humidity several months before the date of exposure as the most important weather variables explaining infection.

Conclusions: Because of autocorrelation, it was not possible to determine those variables that drive sporulation, dispersal, infection and symptom development. This will require more detailed exchange plant studies together with controlled environment inoculation experiments. Nevertheless, results of this and earlier work complement recent research indicating that it may be possible to manage RNC by fungicide applications made in late summer or autumn, early in the annual disease cycle.


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