As part of a new research project, part funded by Syngenta, PhD student Kirsty Fraser (Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh), is seeking the help of greenkeepers across Europe to help build a greater scientific understanding of the emerging disease, Rapid Blight. If you ever encounter the symptoms and salinities described below on your greens, please get in touch and directly help combat this problem, before the disease gets ahead of the game!
What is Rapid Blight?
Rapid blight is a turfgrass disease caused by the slime-net mold pathogens, Labyrinthula terrestris (or ‘labys’ for short), under conditions of raised salinity. Prior to 1995, when the disease was first encountered in the USA, Labyrinthula pathogens were only known to occur in the sea. Despite happily destroying golf-greens many miles from the oceans, these highly unusual turf pathogens still require sodium (Na+) ions to grow. Therefore, if salt levels rise to 0.5 dS/m and above in your soil or irrigation water, then it is time to worry about rapid blight.
The first symptoms to appear are small, irregular patches of browning and/or yellowing turf, the foliage of which appears water soaked with a closer look. If left untreated, it quickly spreads and within a few days of the initial symptoms turf can collapse and die. Although, as far as we know, they do not produce spores or any other dispersal structures, ‘labys’ can spread extremely quickly through direct contact for example, by shared drainage water or lawn mowers.
Several species of turfgrasses are susceptible including, perennial ryegrass, annual and rough bluegrass. Some species show varying levels of resistance to rapid blight, the most resistant being Slender Creeping Red Fescue. However, even if there are no symptoms labys may still infect more resistant turfgrasses and the only way to tell is by looking under the microscope.
Since Rapid Blight is neither a bacterial nor a fungal disease, very few chemical controls work against rapid blight. Only the strobilurins have shown good control but there are concerns over resistance with these single-site compounds. Reducing the soil and/or irrigation salinity will definitely help get rid of rapid blight but with ever greater demands on fresh water resources, this is increasingly difficult for many clubs.
The problem we’re hoping to solve
Currently, we know very little about rapid blight in Europe. We know it is here and that it already seems be a recurring problem in specific areas prone to irrigation water quality issues. This knowledge has been gained through the work of Dr. Kate Entwistle (The Turfgrass Disease Centre (Surrey, UK)) who has identified several cases in the UK, Ireland, Spain and Portugal over the past few years. Yet we do not know its full distribution, how many strains or species are causing this disease or how it spreads from course to course, country to country. Without access to such basic scientific knowledge, we cannot effectively stay ahead of the pathogen and implement better controls and cures.
How you can help
We seek to answer the above questions over the next 2 years by undertaking a survey of golf-courses experiencing saline conditions in Europe, with a focus on the UK and Mediterranean countries.
This is where we need your help, greenkeepers of Europe!
If your turf experiences periods of high salinity (0.5 dS/m and above) either in the soil or irrigation water or both, please get in touch by email and we can arrange for samples of the affected area to be sent to us for analysis. The presence of both rapid blight symptoms and elevated salinity is perfect, but even if you simply have high salinity levels over a sustained period you may have labys infecting your turf and not even know it, so please get in touch too.
You and your affiliated club will remain anonymous in any publication arising out of the study.
How this will help you
We will send you your results on the presence or absence of rapid blight pathogens in your samples and as a result, this will directly help you with disease management.
Looking forward to hearing from you!
Phone: +0044 (0)131 451 3734
Address: Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, UK EH14 4AS
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