Needle blights are serious fungal diseases affecting European natural and planted pine forests. Brown-spot needle blight (BSNB) disease, caused by the fungus Lecanosticta acicola, causes canopy defoliation and severe productivity losses, with consequences depending on host susceptibility. To gain new insights into BSNB plant-pathogen interactions, constitutive and pathogen-induced traits were assessed in two host species with differential disease susceptibility. Six-month-old Pinus radiata D. Don (susceptible) and Pinus pinea L. (more resistant) seedlings were needle inoculated with L. acicola under controlled conditions. Eighty days after inoculation, healthy-looking needles from symptomatic plants were assessed for physiological parameters and sampled for biochemical analysis. Disease progression, plant growth, leaf gas-exchanges and biochemical parameters were complemented with hormonal and untargeted primary metabolism analysis and integrated for a holistic analysis. Constitutive differences between pine species were observed. Pinus pinea presented higher stomatal conductance and transpiration rate and higher amino and organic acids, abscisic acid as well as putrescine content than P. radiata. Symptoms from BSNB disease were observed in 54.54% of P. radiata and 45.45% of P. pinea seedlings, being more pronounced and generalized in P. radiata. For both species, plant height, sub-stomatal CO2 concentration and water-use efficiency were impacted by infection. In P. radiata, total soluble sugars, starch and total flavonoids content increased after infection. No differences in hormone content after infection were observed. However, secondary metabolism was induced in P. pinea visible through total phenolics, flavonoids and putrescine accumulation. Overall, the observed results suggest that P. pinea constitutive and induced traits may function as two layers of a defence strategy which contributed to an increased BSNB resistance in comparison with P. radiata. This is the first integrative study linking plant physiological and molecular traits in Pinus-Lecanosticta acicola pathosystem, contributing to a better understanding of the underlying resistance mechanisms to BSNB disease in pines.
Keywords: Lecanosticta acicola; emergent forest diseases; metabolomics; pine foliar diseases.
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