Phylogenetic inference enables reconstruction of a long-overlooked outbreak of almond leaf scorch disease (Xylella fastidiosa) in Europe

Commun Biol. 2020 Oct 9;3(1):560. doi: 10.1038/s42003-020-01284-7.


The recent introductions of the bacterium Xylella fastidiosa (Xf) into Europe are linked to the international plant trade. However, both how and when these entries occurred remains poorly understood. Here, we show how almond scorch leaf disease, which affects ~79% of almond trees in Majorca (Spain) and was previously attributed to fungal pathogens, was in fact triggered by the introduction of Xf around 1993 and subsequently spread to grapevines (Pierce's disease). We reconstructed the progression of almond leaf scorch disease by using broad phylogenetic evidence supported by epidemiological data. Bayesian phylogenetic inference predicted that both Xf subspecies found in Majorca, fastidiosa ST1 (95% highest posterior density, HPD: 1990-1997) and multiplex ST81 (95% HPD: 1991-1998), shared their most recent common ancestors with Californian Xf populations associated with almonds and grapevines. Consistent with this chronology, Xf-DNA infections were identified in tree rings dating to 1998. Our findings uncover a previously unknown scenario in Europe and reveal how Pierce's disease reached the continent.