Association of Xylella fastidiosa with Yield Loss and Altered Fruit Quality in a Naturally Infected Rabbiteye Blueberry Orchard
Xylella fastidiosa Wells et al. causes disease in a number of plants in the southeastern United States, including southern highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum interspecific hybrids), but little was known concerning its potential impact in rabbiteye blueberry (Vaccinium virgatum Aiton syn. Vaccinium ashei Reade). In a naturally infected orchard in Louisiana, mean yields of X. fastidiosa-positive plants were 55% and 62% less than those of X. fastidiosa-negative plants in 2013 and 2014, respectively. Average berry weight was also lower in X. fastidiosa-positive plants. Within 3 years of testing positive for X. fastidiosa, four of nine X. fastidiosa-positive plants appeared dead. However, plants that were X. fastidiosa-negative in 2013 remained so until 2015, indicating that the bacterium did not spread rapidly in this established orchard during this time. Other factors, including soil chemistry variables, Phytophthora cinnamomi, ring nematode, and ringspot symptoms, were also investigated to determine if one of these might predispose plants to infection with X. fastidiosa or be partly responsible for observed yield loss. In most cases, interactions were not found, but associations with soil Cu and Zn suggest a need for further research on whether these elements predispose rabbiteye blueberry to X. fastidiosa infection and thereby contribute to yield losses. Researchers, extension workers, and growers should be aware of X. fastidiosa as a potential yield-and survival-impacting factor in rabbiteye blueberry.