Floral microbes suppress growth of Monilinia laxa with minimal effects on honey bee feeding

Plant Dis. 2021 Aug 29. doi: 10.1094/PDIS-03-21-0549-RE. Online ahead of print.


Current management of Monilinia laxa, the causal agent of brown rot blossom blight in almond (Prunus dulcis) relies heavily on the use of chemical fungicides during bloom. However, chemical fungicides can have non-target effects on beneficial arthropods, including pollinators, and select for resistance in the pathogen of concern. Almond yield is heavily reliant on successful pollination by healthy honey bees (Apis mellifera); thus, identifying sustainable, effective, and pollinator-friendly control methods for blossom blight during bloom is desirable. Flower-inhabiting microbes could provide a natural, sustainable form of biocontrol for M. laxa, while potentially minimizing costly non-target effects on almond pollinators and the services they provide. As pollinators are sensitive to floral microbes and their associated taste and scent cues, assessing effects of prospective biocontrol species on pollinator attraction is also necessary. Here, our objective was to isolate and identify potential biocontrol microbes from an array of agricultural and natural flowering hosts and test their efficacy in suppressing M. laxa growth in culture. Out of an initial 287 bacterial and fungal isolates identified, fifty-six were screened using a dual culture plate assay. Most strains reduced M. laxa growth in-vitro. Ten particularly effective candidate microbes were further screened for their effect on honey bee feeding. Of the ten, nine were found to both strongly suppress M. laxa growth in culture and not reduce honey bee feeding. These promising results suggest a number of strong candidates for augmentative microbial biocontrol of brown rot blossom blight in almond with potentially minimal effects on honey bee pollination.

Keywords: Monilinia laxa; Prunus dulcis; biocontrol; necrotropic pathogen; pollinator.