Estuaries and Coasts

, Volume 35, Issue 2, pp 436–444 | Cite as

Association Between Fusarium spp. on Spartina alterniflora and Dieback Sites in Connecticut and Massachusetts

  • Wade H. ElmerEmail author
  • James A. LaMondia
  • Frank L. Caruso


Sudden vegetation dieback (SVD) is defined as the loss and lack of recovery of smooth cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) in salt marshes. A new species of a moderately pathogenic fungus called Fusarium palustre is consistently found in SVD sites, but greenhouse tests revealed that it is not capable of causing mortality of healthy plants. Similarly, root-knot nematodes (Meloidogyne spartinae) are also found in SVD sites, but their incidence in marshes affected by SVD is not known. To understand more about the ecology of F. palustre and M. spartinae, salt marshes along Connecticut’s Long Island Sound and Massachusetts’ Cape Cod that exhibited SVD and those that did not, were visited during the summers of 2007, 2008, and 2009. Belowground and aboveground tissues of smooth cordgrass plants from 18 marshes were removed, washed, and assayed for Fusarium spp. to determine if patterns between the incidence of the different species of Fusarium, their virulence on S. alterniflora, root-knot nematodes (M. spartinae), and the health of the marsh could be revealed. There were significantly more colonies of Fusarium growing from plants in SVD sites (6.1%) than in healthy marshes where no SVD was present (<1.0%). The incidence of Fusarium spp. from plants at the perimeter of the SVD site was not statistically different from asymptomatic plants 10–20 m from the SVD edge. The majority of isolates could be assigned to one of two species, F. palustre or another slightly pathogenic group called Fusarium cf. incarnatum (88% in 2007, 62% in 2008, and 96% in 2009). The ratio of F. palustre to F. cf. incarnatum was 6.7, 2.7, or 2.1 for 2007, 2008, or 2009, respectively. Greenhouse tests on healthy S. alterniflora revealed that isolates of F. palustre were more virulent than F. cf. incarnatum, regardless of whether they were recovered from plants in healthy marshes or in SVD sites. Root-knot nematodes were found sporadically and could not be associated with SVD. Factorial greenhouse experiments did not demonstrate any interaction between F. palustre and M. spartinae providing no experimental evidence that combining Fusarium and root-knot nematodes could cause mortality. The presence of Fusarium on S. alterniflora in healthy marshes also suggests an endophytic relationship that may subsequently function in the breakdown of tissue when plants are compromised.


Smooth cordgrass Plant pathogens Dieback Fungi Nematodes 


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Copyright information

© Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Wade H. Elmer
    • 1
    Email author
  • James A. LaMondia
    • 2
  • Frank L. Caruso
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Plant Pathology and EcologyThe Connecticut Agricultural Experiment StationNew HavenUSA
  2. 2.Valley LaboratoryThe Connecticut Agricultural Experiment StationWindsorUSA
  3. 3.Cranberry Experiment StationUniversity of MassachusettsEast WarehamUSA

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