Plant virus management is mostly achieved through control of insect vectors using insecticides. However, insecticides are only marginally effective for preventing virus transmission. Furthermore, it is well established that symptoms of virus infections often encourage vector visitation to infected hosts, which exacerbates secondary spread. Plant defense elicitors, phytohormone analogs that prime the plant immune system against attack, may be a viable approach for virus control that complements insecticide use by disrupting pathologies that attract vectors. To explore this, we tested the effect of a commercial plant elicitor, acibenzolar-S-methyl (ASM), on infection rates, virus titers, and symptom development in melon plants inoculated with one of two virus species, Cucumber mosaic virus (CMV) and Cucurbit yellow stunting disorder virus (CYSDV). We also conducted behavioral assays to assess the effect of ASM treatment and virus inoculation on vector behavior. For both pathogens, ASM treatment reduced symptom severity and delayed disease progression. For CYSDV, this resulted in the attenuation of symptoms that encourage vector visitation and virion uptake. We did observe slight trade-offs in growth vs. defense following ASM treatment, but these effects did not translate into reduced yields or plant performance in the field. Our results suggest that immunity priming may be a valuable tool for improving management of insect-transmitted plant viruses.
Keywords: Aphis gossypii; Bemisia tabaci; cucumber mosaic virus (CMV); cucurbit yellow stunting disorder virus (CYSDV); electrical penetration graphing; plant defense elicitor; plant virus; vector behavior; virus manipulation; virus pathology.