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Pest Organisms Threatening Europe

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - POnTE (Pest Organisms Threatening Europe)

Reporting period: 2018-11-01 to 2019-10-31

The Project “Pest Organisms Threatening Europe” (POnTE), focused its workplan on minimizing the risk of introduction/impact of emerging pests threatening EU crops, ornamental and forest plant species. The Project addressed the following pathogens: 1) Xylella fastidiosa and its vectors, with main activities investigating the interactions pathogen-olive, the main affected EU crop; 2) ‘Ca. Liberibacter solanacearum’ and its psyllid vectors affecting a number of strategic crops such as potato, tomato and carrot and 3) Hymenoscyphus fraxineus and Phytophthora spp., posing serious threats to broadleaf and conifer species in forest ecosystems. The project workplan relied on a multidisciplinary strategy that included biological and molecular studies, field, greenhouse and laboratory experiments, as well as the analysis of economic and social impact in the outbreak areas. The results gathered in the 4 years of activity have allowed (i) the implementation of pest risk assessment tools; (ii) the proposal of preventive actions based on early detection and remote-sensing tools); (iii) the development of future IPM strategy based on the disease resistance, disease-free seed and planting material, use of cultural practices and alternative environmentally-friendly treatments; (iv) to support decision-making policies at the EU level, based on newly generated knowledge. The project fostered transnational research collaboration among 25 Partners and outside the Consortium, building networks with other similar initiatives funded by the EU Commission. Key SMEs were involved in Project activities, collaborating to the Project achievements, together with stakeholder groups.
Xf – POnTE research demonstrated that Xf is the causal agent of the Olive Quick Decline Syndrome in Southern Italy and provided evidence on molecular mechanisms characterizing the response of olive cultivars to infections, profiling those that might be resistant/tolerant to Xf. This finding enabled the repeal of the prohibition of planting new olive trees in the infected area in Apulia, giving new hope to the olive industry in the area. First essential information on vectors, a wide range of strategies for their control and the pattern of the disease spreading on olive trees, were gathered. Scientists proved the robustness of the disease airborne early detection even before the symptoms became visible, thanks to sophisticated hyperspectral cameras. Epidemiological and economic models were developed to indicate which areas in Europe are under greater threat from Xf, with an estimate of the economic losses for growers and consumers. New innovative approaches were tested to propose sustainable and environmentally friendly strategies for pathogen control in olive.
CaLsol – The activities developed in PonTE allowed to map the geographical distribution of the CaLsol variants in Europe, in the meanwhile finding for the very first time the pathogen on new psyllid vectors as well as on hosts that were not known could be infected (i.e. parsley, fennel, chervil, parsnip and other weeds).
Novel diagnostic assays were designed to rapidly identify important psyllid vectors. These will be important tools in the prevention and detection of possible introductions in the EU of psyllids such as Bactericera cockerelli. A remote-controlled robot was developed to inspect the presence of CaLsol in horticultural crops by remote sensing devices. Researchers disseminated to a wide audience of stakeholders the recourse to integrated pest management approaches, including mechanical tools such as nets, “natural” insecticide products (e.g. kaolin) and technologies such as drip irrigation.
Forestry pathogens – Researchers detected Hf on ahs for the first time in Serbia, and on different non-ash species (i.e. Phillyrea and Chionanthus). The role of ash pericarps, seeds or embryos as a source for the spread of the disease was investigated. Hot-water treatment as a control measure for Hf eradication in seeds was successfully tested. Seeking for tolerant trees, asymptomatic ash seedlings and trees were identified. Phytophthora species damaging conifers and other forest tree species have been identified associated with specific tree declines in Europe. It was shown by these studies that Southeast Asia is the centre of origin of highly invasive wide-host-range Phytophthora species which cause currently devastating forest epidemics in Europe and North America.
POnTE has invested a considerable effort to disseminate the most relevant achievements to the entire community, non-experts, farmers, stakeholders, and the general public, affected or threatened by the spread of the diseases caused by the target pathogens. This was a small yet significant first step to shorten the gap between science and final users and contributed to strengthen the possible exploitation of Project results.
POnTE provided a deep understanding of the genetic/pathogenicity of the target pests, for which scarce scientific information was available at EU level, the introduction pathways not demonstrated and their behaviour under EU conditions still unknown at the beginning of the action.
The research developed through POnTE allowed the testing of a large number of ash fruits at the same time. This will allow any diagnostic laboratory to detect H. fraxineus on seed lots efficiently. Furthermore, a double hot-water treatment was developed and tested to eradicate H. fraxineus from seed lots. This is a low cost, low tech method that can easily be scaled up and used by forestry and nursery businesses and at the same time is safe for both the operator and the environment.
The identification of olive cultivars resistant to Xf in Apulia helped mitigate the negative socio-economic impact of the disease. Finding sources of resistance to Xf has allowed the authorities to lift the ban on planting host plants in the infected area, re-building confidence in preserving the olive industry in an area severely affected by the disease.
The protocols for CaLsol detection, validated in the course of the Project, are now implemented in seed companies and used to secure the trade of carrot seeds worldwide. Surveys organized during POnTE Project improved the knowledge regarding the presence of CaLsol in the European and Mediterranean areas and highlighted the co-occurrence with other pathogens. This allowed the choice of CaLsol-free areas for seed productions and increased awareness on the advantage of testing innovative strategies for psyllid vector control, with a direct impact on commercial plantations and smallholder farms.
Pathogenicity tests for Phytophthora species
Testing the system for the early detection of Xylella fastidiosa
Dissemination event dedicated to stakeholders
Hot water treatment on ash seeds
Symptoms of CaLsol on carrot plants
Field trials of olive varieties resistant to Xf infection
Bactericera trigonica, a psyllid vector of CaLsol