26 September 2017

Population structure of the ash dieback pathogen, Hymenoscyphus fraxineus, in relation to its mode of arrival in the UK

The ash dieback fungus, Hymenoscyphus fraxineus, a destructive, alien pathogen of common ash (Fraxinus excelsior), has spread across Europe over the past 25 years and was first observed in the UK in 2012. To investigate the relationship of the pathogen's population structure to its mode of arrival, isolates were obtained from locations in England and Wales, either where established natural populations of ash had been infected by wind-dispersed ascospores or where the fungus had been introduced on imported planting stock. Population structure was determined by tests for vegetative compatibility (VC), mating type and single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). VC heterogeneity was high at all locations, with 96% of isolate pairings being incompatible. Frequencies of the MAT1-1-1 and MAT1-2-1 idiomorphs were approximately equal, consistent with H. fraxineus being an obligate outbreeder. Most SNP variation occurred within study location and there was little genetic differentiation between the two types of location in the UK, or between pathogen populations in the UK and continental Europe. There was modest differentiation between UK subpopulations, consistent with genetic variation between source populations in continental Europe. However, there was no evidence of strong founder effects, indicating that numerous individuals of H. fraxineus initiated infection at each location, regardless of the route of pathogen transmission. The ssRNA virus HfMV1 was present at moderate to high frequencies in all UK subpopulations. The results imply that management of an introduced plant pathogen requires action against its spread at the continental level involving coordinated efforts by European countries.

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