Epidemiology of Diseases Caused by Xylella fastidiosa in California: Evaluation of Alfalfa as a Source of Vectors and Inocula
Pierce's disease and almond leaf scorch disease have been chronic problems for California grape and almond growers, respectively. Both diseases are caused by the xylem-limited, bacterial pathogen Xylella fastidiosa, which is transmitted by xylem-feeding insects. We evaluated the potential for alfalfa to serve as a source of vectors and inocula in California. Analysis of Geographic Information Systems maps on the distribution and abundance of grape, almond, and alfalfa plantings determined that 94,521 ha of almond and grape were planted within 1.6 km of an alfalfa field. Seasonal trends of X. fastidiosa detection were monitored outdoors and in the greenhouse in five needle-inoculated alfalfa cultivars (CUF101, Moapa69, WL342, WL530HQ, and WL625HQ) over 2 years. Results suggest that cool winter temperatures reduced X. fastidiosa populations to undetectable levels but did not eliminate infections. Sampling of alfalfa fields to assess incidence of X. fastidiosa corroborated this result, with positive samples detected in summer only. Incidence of X. fastidiosa in alfalfa during summer was low, with only 6 positive samples out of 1,156 samples collected over 3 years. Insect trapping in alfalfa fields over 3 years found that the green sharpshooter (Draeculacephala minerva) was the most abundant vector. Within alfalfa fields, green sharpshooter abundance was highest in weedy areas, suggesting a preference for weeds over alfalfa. These results confirm that weedy alfalfa fields can serve as an important source of vectors. Incidence of X. fastidiosa in alfalfa was low, possibly due to preference of vectors for weeds over alfalfa.