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Alternaria alternata, the causal agent of leaf blight of sunflower in South Africa.

Kgatle, M. G. ; Truter, M. ; Ramusi, T. M. ; Flett, B. ; Aveling, T. A. S.

European Journal of Plant Pathology 2018 Vol 151 No. 3 pp. 677-688;


Sunflower (Helianthus annuus L.) is an important oilseed crop in South Africa, and is grown in rotation with maize in some parts of North West, Limpopo, Free State, Mpumalanga and Gauteng provinces. Alternaria leaf blight is currently one of the major potential disease threats of sunflower and is capable of causing yield losses in all production regions. Alternaria helianthi was reported as the main cause of Alternaria leaf blight of sunflower in South Africa; however small-spored Alternaria species have been consistently isolated from leaf blight symptoms during recent surveys. The aim of this study was to use morphological and molecular techniques to identify the causal agent(s) of Alternaria blight isolated from South African sunflower production areas. Alternaria helianthi was not recovered from any of the sunflower lesions or seeds, with only Alternaria alternata retrieved from the symptomatic tissue. Molecular identification based on a combined phylogenetic dataset using the partial internal transcribed spacer regions, RNA polymerase second largest subunit, glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase, translation elongation factor and Alternaria allergen gene regions was done to support the morphological identification based on the three-dimensional sporulation patterns of Alternaria. Furthermore, this study aimed at evaluating the pathogenicity of the recovered Alternaria isolates and their potential as causal agents of Alternaria leaf blight of sunflower. Pathogenicity tests showed that all the Alternaria alternata isolates tested were capable of causing Alternaria leaf blight of sunflower as seen in the field. This is the first report of A. alternata causing leaf blight of sunflower in South Africa.