Parthenium weed (Parthenium hysterophorus L.) research in Ethiopia: Investigation of pathogens as biocontrol agents
S Von Bargen
Parthenium is an exotic invasive weed that now occurs widely in Ethiopia. Surveys to determine the presence and distribution of pathogens associated with parthenium and further evaluation of the pathogens found as potential biocontrol agents were carried out in Ethiopia since 1998. Several fungal isolates of the genus Helminthosporium, Phoma, Curvularia, Chaetomium, Alternaria, and Eurotium were obtained from the seeds and other plant parts. However, all of the isolates tested were non-pathogenic except Helminthosporium isolates. The two most important diseases were the rust, Puccinia abrupta var. partheniicola and the phyllody, caused by a phytoplasma belonging to the species “Candidatus Phytoplasma aurantifolia”. Host specificity tests revealed that the rust, P. abrupta, only sporulates on parthenium while the phyllody infected parthenium, groundnut, sesame, grass pea, lentil, and chickpea. Suspected insect vectors were examined for phytoplasma infection by means of Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR). The successful acquisition of phytoplasma’s by the leafhopper, Orosius cellulosus Lindberg (Cicadellidae), was determined by molecular detection of phytoplasma. Phytoplasma was also detected from a single bait plant after feeding by the leafhopper. Sequencing data from phytoplasma obtained from parthenium and the above mentioned crops was identical with sequence identities > 98%. The rust was commonly found at 1400 – 2500 m.a.s.l. with disease incidence up to 100% in some locations while phyllody was observed at 900 – 2300 m.a.s.l. with incidence up to 75%. Individual effects of the rust and phyllody diseases on Parthenium in different locations under field condition showed significant reduction on seed and morphological parameters. Seed production was reduced by 42 and 85% due to rust and phyllody, respectively.