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An evaluation of the rust fungus Gymnoconia nitensas a potential biological control agent for alien Rubus species in Hawaii

November 26, 1997

The rust fungus Gymnoconia nitens infects blackberry (Rubus argutus) systemically in regions of the continental United States, producing bright yellow–orange masses of spores on newly developing floricanes during springtime. In tests to determine the suitability of this rust as a biological control agent for R. penetransin Hawaii, a species now thought to be conspecific with R. argutus,rooted cuttings of the Hawaiian plants were grown at North Carolina State University, inoculated, and observed. Other introduced weedy Rubus spp. in Hawaii, including R. ellipticus, R. rosifolius, and R. glaucus,as well as the two endemic species R. hawaiensis and R. macraei,also were inoculated. No species of Rubusare of commercial importance in Hawaii, but the protection of the native species, of which R. macraei is rare, was of utmost concern. The native Hawaiian species did not survive well in North Carolina in this study, however. Later availability of a plant pathogen containment laboratory in Hawaii enabled similar tests to be conducted at that facility. In addition to the above species, R. spectabilis (salmonberry), a species native to the Pacific Northwest with which the Hawaiian Rubus spp. are thought to share a common ancestor, was inoculated in Hawaii. Infection with G. nitens under natural field conditions becomes apparent only when sporulation occurs on floricanes the second year following infection. However, experimental inoculation led to early responses of chlorotic leaf flecking and puckering, leaf and stem contortion, and stem gall formation, indicating the sensitivity of R. penetrans (=R. argutus), R. hawaiensis, and R. macraei to this rust. Apparent systemic infection also resulted in sporulation on one plant of R. macraei. Ability to attack the endemic species suggests that G. nitens would not be suitable for release in Hawaii as a biological control agent, at least on the islands with populations of the native species.