Venturia inaequalis is an ascomycete fungus responsible for apple scab, a disease that has invaded almost all apple growing regions worldwide, with the corresponding adverse effects on apple production. Monitoring and predicting the effectiveness of intervention strategies require knowledge of the origin, introduction pathways, and population biology of pathogen populations. Analysis of the variation of genetic markers using the inferential framework of population genetics offers the potential to retrieve this information.
Here, we present a population genetic analysis of microsatellite variation in 1,273 strains of V. inaequalis representing 28 orchard samples from seven regions in five continents. Analysis of molecular variance revealed that most of the variation (88%) was distributed within localities, which is consistent with extensive historical migrations of the fungus among and within regions. Despite this shallow population structure, clustering analyses partitioned the data set into separate groups corresponding roughly to geography, indicating that each region hosts a distinct population of the fungus. Comparison of the levels of variability among populations, along with coalescent analyses of migration models and estimates of genetic distances, was consistent with a scenario in which the fungus emerged in Central Asia, where apple was domesticated, before its introduction into Europe and, more recently, into other continents with the expansion of apple growing. Across the novel range, levels of variability pointed to multiple introductions and all populations displayed signatures of significant post-introduction increases in population size. Most populations exhibited high genotypic diversity and random association of alleles across loci, indicating recombination both in native and introduced areas.
Venturia inaequalis is a model of invasive phytopathogenic fungus that has now reached the ultimate stage of the invasion process with a broad geographic distribution and well-established populations displaying high genetic variability, regular sexual reproduction, and demographic expansion.