Wild grass as a reservoir of Fusarium graminearum and source of inoculum
In addition to causing Fusarium head blight of wheat and other cereals, Fusarium graminearum is associated with dozens of wild or weedy grass species. Their role in the disease cycle and evolution of the pathogen has not been established despite their widespread distribution. A three-year survey of wild grasses in New York (USA) found that inflorescences and overwintered stems were frequently colonized by F. graminearum. Through a series of controlled laboratory experiments, wheat and five common grass species were compared for their potential to support inoculum production. Artificially infested stem tissue from several grasses both retained F. graminearum at higher rates through a single winter and supported greater ascospore production per dry gram than wheat. Susceptibility of these species to root and crown rot was measured with a modified seed germination assay and a diverse panel of F. graminearum isolates. Differences were seen between host species, and some grasses were resistant to infection. Our results indicate that wild grass species may support significant F. graminearum inoculum production while differing in their suitability for root and crown colonization. Studying interactions between F. graminearum and alternative host plants can improve our understanding of evolution in a broad host range pathogen and our ability to predict the risk of crop epidemics. We are currently evaluating isolates collected from wild grasses for mycotoxin production and aggressiveness on wheat.