Animal Production Science Animal Production Science Society
Food, fibre and pharmaceuticals from animals

The PythiumFusarium root disease complex – an emerging constraint to irrigated maize in southern New South Wales

P. R. Harvey A C , R. A. Warren A and S. Wakelin B

A CSIRO Entomology, PMB 2, Glen Osmond, SA 5064, Australia.

B CSIRO Land and Water, PMB 2, Glen Osmond, SA 5064, Australia.

C Corresponding author. Email:

Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture 48(3) 367-374
Submitted: 14 March 2006  Accepted: 27 August 2007   Published: 4 February 2008


A pathogen-selective fungicide trial was established at a site with a history of continuous maize cultivation with stubble retention to assess the impacts of Pythium, Fusarium and Rhizoctonia root diseases on maize productivity. High soilborne populations of Pythium and Fusarium were detected at sowing, with no significant differences in their distributions across the site. Significant increases in Fusarium and Pythium isolates were recovered from maize rhizosphere soils after the first 12 weeks of crop growth. While no isolates of phytopathogenic Rhizoctonia were recovered from soil or maize roots, 63 and 100% of roots examined were colonised by Pythium and Fusarium spp., respectively. Fungicides were, therefore, ineffective in suppressing rhizosphere fungal populations and inhibiting root infection and disease development. As a result, there were no significant increases in crop establishment, early crop growth (biomass) or grain yields with any of the pathogen-selective treatments. DNA sequencing identified six Pythium and five Fusarium spp. from infected maize roots (internal transcribed spacer 5.8s rDNA) and rhizosphere soils (rDNA and translation elongation factor-1α). These species have previously been reported as saprophytes on crop residues and as components of a root-disease complex contributing to seedling damping-off and root and stem rots of maize. Growth responses of rotation crops grown in natural and sterilised continuous maize soil indicated that soilborne root pathogens significantly reduced biomass production of maize and wheat, but not Adzuki bean and canola. Fungal isolation frequencies from these crops implied host-mediated selection of Pythium but not Fusarium spp., the former showing a preference for and greater pathogenicity towards maize and wheat.


Altschul SF Madden TL Schäffer AA Zhang J Zheng Z Miller W Lipman DJ 1997 Gapped BLAST and PSI-BLAST: a new generation of protein database search programs. Nucleic Acids Research 25 3389 3402 DOI

Backhouse D Burgess LW 2002 Climatic analysis of the distribution of Fusarium graminearum, F. pseudograminearum and F. culmorum on cereals in Australia. Australasian Plant Pathology 31 321 327 DOI

Burgess LW (1981) General ecology of the fusaria. In ‘Fusarium: diseases, biology and taxonomy’. (Eds PE Nelson, TA Toussoun, RJ Cook) pp. 225–235. (Pennsylvania State University Press: University Park, PA)

Burgess LW, Summerell BA, Bullock S, Gott KP, Backhouse D (1994) ‘Laboratory manual for Fusarium research.’ 3rd edn. (University of Sydney: Sydney)

Cook RJ 2001 Management of wheat and barley diseases in modern farming systems. Australasian Plant Pathology 30 119 126 DOI

Cother EJ Gilbert RL 1992 Distribution of Pythium arrhenomanes in rice growing soils of southern New South Wales. Australasian Plant Pathology 21 79 82 DOI

Dewan MM Sivasithamparam K 1988 Pythium species in roots of wheat and rye grass in Western Australia and their effect on root rot caused by Gaeumannomyces graminis var. tritici. Soil Biology & Biochemistry 20 801 808 DOI

Duffy BK Ownley BH Weller DM 1997 Soil chemical and physical properties associated with suppression of take-all in wheat by Trichoderma koningii. Phytopathology 87 1118 1124 DOI

Edel V Steinberg C Gautheron N Alabouvette C 1997 Populations of non-pathogenic Fusarium oxysporum associated with roots of four plant species compared to soil populations. Phytopathology 87 693 697 DOI

Harman GE Howell CR Viterbo A Chet I Lorito M 2004 Trichoderma species – opportunistic, avirulent plant symbionts. National Review of Microbiology 2 43 56 DOI

Harvey PR 2004 Crop rotation could reduce Pythium root rot. Farming Ahead 154 38 40

Harvey PR Butterworth PJ Hawke BH Pankhurst CE 2000 Genetic variation among populations of Pythium irregulare in southern Australia. Plant Pathology 49 619 627

Harvey PR Butterworth PJ Hawke BG Pankhurst CE 2001 a Genetic and pathogenic variation among cereal, medic and sub-clover isolates of Pythium irregulare. Mycological Research 105 85 93 DOI

Harvey PR Langridge P Marshall DR 2001 b Genetic drift and host-mediated selection cause genetic differentiation among Gaeumannomyces graminis populations infecting cereals in southern Australia. Mycological Research 105 927 935 DOI

Hoagland DR, Arnon DI (1938) The water culture method of growing plants without soil. University of California Agricultural Experiment Station Circular 347, pp. 36–39.

Holloway GJ, Henry FJ, Excell GK, Abubakar A (1999) The incidence and causal agents of crown rot in wheat crops in western Victoria. In ‘Proceedings of the first Australasian soilborne disease symposium’. (Ed. RC Magarey) pp. 199–200. (Bureau of Sugar Experimental Stations: Brisbane)

Kong P Richardson PA Moorman GW Hong C 2004 Single-strand conformational polymorphism analysis of the ribosomal internal transcribed spacer 1 for rapid species identification within the genus Pythium. FEMS Microbiology Letters 240 229 236 DOI

Martin FN Loper JE 1999 Soilborne plant diseases caused by Pythium spp. : ecology, epidemiology and prospects for biological control. Critical Reviews in Plant Sciences 18 111 181 DOI

Murray GM, Brennan JP (2001) Prioritising threats to the grains industry. GRDC Technical Report, Project DAN438.

O’Donnell K Kistler HC Cigelnik E Ploetz RC 1998 Multiple evolutionary origins of the fungus causing panama-disease of banana: concordant evidence from nuclear and mitochondrial gene genealogies. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 95 2044 2049 DOI

Otero JT Ackerman JD Bayman P 2004 Differences in mycorrhizal preferences between two tropical orchids. Molecular Ecology 13 2393 2404 DOI

Pankhurst CE McDonald HJ Hawke BH 1995 Influence of tillage and crop rotation on the epidemiology of Pythium infections of wheat in a red-brown earth of South Australia. Soil Biology & Biochemistry 27 1065 1073 DOI

Pankhurst CE Hawke BH McDonald HJ 1998 Role of root disease in the poor establishment of Medicago pastures after cereal cropping in South Australia. Plant Pathology 47 749 758

Pe ME Gianfranceshi L Taramino G Tarachini R Angelini P Dani M Binelli G 1993 Mapping quantitative trait loci (QTLs) for resistance to Gibberella zeae infection in maize. Molecular & General Genetics 241 11 16

Ryder MH Warren RA Harvey PR Tang W Yang H Zhang X Zhang B 2005 Recent advances in biological control of soil-borne root diseases of wheat, vegetables, and cotton in China and Australia. Shandong Science 18 1 8

Ryley MJ Obst NR Irwin JAG Drenth A 1998 Changes in the racial composition of Phytophthora sojae in Australia between 1979 and 1996. Plant Disease 82 1048 1054

Sewell GWF 1981 Effects of Pythium species on the growth of apple and their possible role in replant disease. Annals of Applied Biology 97 31 42

Singleton LL, Mihail JD, Rush CM (1992) ‘Methods for research on soil-borne phytopathogenic fungi.’ (American Phytopathological Society Press: St Paul, MN)

Stack J 1999 Common stalk rot disease of corn. Plant Disease 6 1 8

Summerell BA Burgess LW 1988 Stubble management practices and the survival of Fusarium graminearum group 1 in wheat stubble residues. Australasian Plant Pathology 17 88 93

Van der Plaats-Niterink AJ 1981 Monograph of the genus Pythium. Studies in Mycology 21 1 242

Wakelin SA Warren RA Harvey PR Ryder MH 2004 Phosphate solubilization by Penicillium spp. closely associated with wheat roots. Biology and Fertility of Soils 40 36 43

Wang B Dale ML Kochman JK Allen SJ Obst NR 1999 Variations in soil populations of Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. vasinfectum as influenced by fertiliser application and growth of different crops. Australasian Plant Pathology 28 174 181 DOI

Wang PH Wang YT White JG 2003 Species-specific PCR primers for Pythium developed from ribosomal ITS1 region. Letters in Applied Microbiology 37 127 132 DOI

White DG (2000) ‘Compendium of corn diseases.’ (American Phytopathological Society Press: St Paul, MN)

White TJ, Bruns T, Lee S, Taylor JW (1990) Amplification and direct sequencing of fungal ribosomal RNA genes for phylogenetics. In ‘PCR protocols: a guide to methods and applications’. (Eds MA Innis, DH Gelfand, JJ Sninsky, TJ White) pp. 315–322. (Academic Press: San Diego, CA)

Yang DE Zhang CL Wang YG 2002 Review of maize stalk rot in China. Journal of Maize Science 1 4

Yang DE Zhang CL Zhang DS Jin DM Weng ML Chen SJ Nguyen H Wang B 2004 Genetic analysis and molecular mapping of maize (Zea mays L.) stalk rot resistance gene Rfg1. Theoretical and Applied Genetics 108 706 711

Yergeau E Filion M Vujanovic V St-Arnaud M 2005 A PCR-denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis approach to assess Fusarium diversity in asparagus. Journal of Microbiological Methods 60 143 154 DOI

You MP Sivasithamparam K Riley IT Barbetti MJ 2000 The occurrence of root-infecting fungi and parasitic nematodes in annual Medicago species in Western Australian pastures. Australian Journal of Agricultural Research 51 435 444 DOI

Export Citation