Pest/Pathogen of the Month

Pest/Pathogen of the Month: September

Scientific name:  Spongospora subterranea f. sp.subterranea (Sss)

Common names: Powdery scab of potato

Powdery scab, caused by the obligate plant pathogen Spongospora subterranea f. sp. subterranea (Sss), is an unsightly blemish disease on potatoes and is a major problem in the potato industry worldwide. Powdery scab is identified by purple-brown pimple-like lesions that rupture the tuber periderm, creating powdery filled lesions. The powdery mass consists of masses of sporosori (collections of resting spores). These resting spores are highly resistant to unfavourable environmental conditions, allowing the pathogen to survive in the soil for over 50 years. The presence of these lesions reduces quality and marketability of seed tubers or tubers intended for consumption, causing major yield losses in potato production. This plant pathogen is also responsible for causing two other diseases, namely root infection and root galling, which also lead to yield reductions. Powdery scab disease is most severe in fields when the soil temperature is cool (9-17 °C) and has a high water content. Although infection occurs under cool and wet conditions, diseases have been recorded in hot and dry climates too, especially where irrigation is applied. The host range of Sss is broad as it infects plant species belonging to at least 26 families. Many weeds and commercial crop species have been confirmed to be alternative hosts of Sss. Powdery scab is difficult to successfully control due to the pathogen’s ability to form resting spores and the scarcity of resistant cultivars. No single control method can completely control Sss, however, an integrated management approach is advised for management of Sss.


Pest/Pathogen of the Month: August

Scientific name:  Sclerotinia sclerptiorum (Lib) de Bary.

Common names: white mold, cottony rot, watery soft rot, stem rot, drop, crown rot and blossom blight.

Sclerotinia sclerotiorum (Lib.) de Bary is an Ascomycete fungus in the order Helotiales. This species is a multi-host necrotroph that infects more than 400 plant species, with lettuce, sunflower, canola and sugar bean being of economic importance to the South African agriculture industry. Sclerotinia sclerotiorum is characterized by the production of long-term survival structures called sclerotia which form an important part of the infection cycle. These structures can lay dormant in the soil for up to 8 years until environmental conditions become conducive for germination. Carpogenic germination of sclerotia results in the formation of a sexual structure (the apothecia) at soil level, which releases millions of ascospores that start the infection cycle. Myceliogenic germination forms hyphae and mycelium that results in direct sub-terrain infection of host plants, although this is limited to a radius of about 2 cm around the sclerotia. Signs and symptoms of disease depend on the host plant infected and can include water-soaked lesions or dry lesions on stems, leaves, fruits, or petioles. The presence of white fluffy hyphae on the host surface during high humidity forms the basis of the name “white mold” that refers to the disease. 

Photograph:Sclerotia (black structures) mixed in with soybean (Photo by Lisa Rothmann, taken from The South African Sclerotinia Research Network (SASRN) website)



Pest/Pathogen of the Month: July

Scientific name:  Teratosphaeria destructans

Common names: 

Teratosphaeria destructans is one of the most devastating pathogens to Eucalyptus forestry. It causes severe shoot and leaf blight on young Eucalyptus plantation trees and was, until recently, only known from South East Asia. In South Africa, T. destructans was first discovered in the KwaZulu-Natal Province by the FABI team in 2015. It has subsequently also spread to plantations of E. grandis and its hybrids in other sub-tropical parts of the country. Some good news is that the South African T. destructans population consists of a single genotype and mating type. This indicates that sexual reproduction is currently not possible and that the pathogen most likely entered South Africa as a single introduction. Care should be taken not to introduce the opposite mating type or additional genotypes.

Photo credit:


Pest/Pathogen of the Month: June

Scientific name: Rosellinia necatrix

Common names: White root root

Rosellinia necatrix Berl. ex Prill. is the causal agent of white root rot on various plant species, including almond, apple, peach, orange, pear, grape, coffee, olive and avocado. The genus Rosellinia consists of multiple species capable of causing disease, however, R. necatrix is the most widely distributed and devastating. R. necatrix was first identified in South Africa in 1974 on apple and pear trees in the Western Cape. It is an ascomycete, saprophytic pathogen that causes rotting of the roots and collapse of host conducting vessels leading to wilting and death. This fungus is soilborne and can survive in the soil on woody debris and organic matter for long periods of time. White root rot is difficult to diagnose since foliar and root symptoms are unspecific, therefore, the disease is often mistaken for Phytophthora root rot. Some hosts do not show any foliar symptoms until the plant suddenly dies, sometimes with fruit and leaves still attached to the tree. A distinguishing symptom is the presence of white mycelial growth on the root surface, in the soil and underneath/on top of the bark at the crown of the tree. Disease control options are limited due to the pathogen’s hardy resting structures, extensive soil penetration and ability to withstand drought, acidic soils and many common fungicides.



Pest/Pathogen of the Month: May

Scientific name: Pectobacterium

Common names: Soft rot bacteria; Soft Rot Enterobacteriaceace

Pectobacterium species, formerly known as Erwinia species, are the main causal agents of soft rot, blackleg and aerial stem rot of potatoes as well as of many other vegetables and ornamentals (Figure 1). The genus consists of many species capable of causing disease. It is a Gram-negative, opportunistic pathogen that causes tissue maceration through the production of pectinolytic enzymes that result in cell wall degradation. The pathogen is mainly spread by latently infected propagation material, although it can also be spread by contaminated irrigation water, equipment and insects. It isn’t soilborne and therefore doesn’t overwinter or survive in the soil for longer than six months in the absence of a host. The pathogen remains latent within the plant until favourable environmental conditions cause a shift from latency to disease development.  Symptom expression is dependent on quorum sensing and therefore, pectinolytic enzyme production only starts after the pathogen population reaches a critical threshold. The main environmental factor that promotes disease development is high soil moisture, which creates an anaerobic environment, favouring the growth of this facultative anaerobe.

Pest/Pathogen of the Month: April

Scientific name: Bathycoelia distincta (old name: B. natalicola - distant)

Common names: Two-spotted stink bugs

Bathycoelia distincta is a Heteropteran that was discovered in 1984 in the Limpopo region (South Africa). This indigenous species belongs to the Pentatomidae family, well-known to comprise the highest number of economically important species in the world.  These bugs are phytophagous and feed by inserting their stylets (mouthpart) into the food source to suck up nutrients, resulting in potential damage to plant tissue. Pentatomidae species are also characterized by their general ovoid form, antennae, and tarsi segmented into five and three parts respectively, and a short triangular scutellum. They are commonly called stink bugs, due to the odour produced by their scent glands. The Pentatomidae is the largest family within the superfamily Pentatomoidea (Heteroptera suborder, true bugs) and comprises of approximately 5000 of the estimated 8000 species, followed by the Lygaeidae, Reduviidae and Miridae. Species within Pentatomidae are further divided into eight subfamilies namely: Asopinae, Cyrtocorinae, Discocephalinae, Edessinae, Phyllocephalinae, Podopinae, Serbaninae and Pentatominae (the largest), in which B. distincta belongs.

Pest/Pathogen of the Month: March

Scientific name: Pseudomonas syringae

Common names: 

I assure you, there is nothing fake about Pseudomonas syringae, so named after its host of origin, Syringa vulgaris commonly known as lilac, or its devastating effect on agricultural systems. P. syringae is listed as #1 in the top 10 most economically significant plant pathogenic bacteria1. This bacterium is known as a species complex that comprises nine genomospecies (DNA-DNA hybridization delimitation), 13 phylogenetic groups (sequence-based similarity of four housekeeping loci), and 19 phylogenomic groups (whole-genome based phylogeny). There are currently over 60 pathovars (strains characterized based on host of origin or similarity of symptoms caused). P. syringae is widely used as model pathogen to study bacterial pathogenesis, molecular mechanisms of plant-microbe interactions, microbial ecology, as well as evolution and epidemiology.

Pest/Pathogen of the Month: February

Scientific name: Fusarium

Common names: Pitch canker fungus, Fusarium crown rot, Fusarium root rot, Fusarium wilt, Fusarium head blight, etc. 

For the month of February, we have selected the genus, Fusarium, as our pathogen of the month. It is also fitting that both February and Fusarium start with an "F". There are a number of economically important Fusarium spp. that cause disease in forestry, agriculture and human health. If you look at the APS list of economically important crops, 81 of the 101 plants listed there are affected by at least one Fusarium disease. Some Fusarium species that infect cereal crops produce toxins, or mycotoxins, that if consumed by humans and animals can lead to diarrhoea, suppression of the immune system, have hormonal and estrogenic effects and cause oesophageal cancer in humans. In forestry, Fusarium circinatum is one of the most destructive diseases of pine that limits what pine species we can plant in South Africa.



Pest/Pathogen of the Month: January

Scientific name: Euwallaceae fornicatus

Common name: Polyphagous Shothole Borer

The Polyphagous Shothole Borer (PHSB) was discovered for the first time in South Africa by the FABI team in 2017. Since then, this beetle and its fungus have been found killing trees in all provinces in South Africa, except Mpumalanga. It attacks agricultural and forestry crops, street and garden trees, as well as several native tree species.

Read more