In the Janzen-Connell hypothesis, host-specific natural enemies enhance species diversity and influence the structure of plant communities. This study tests the explicit assumption of host specificity for soil pathogens of the genus Pythium that cause damping-off disease of germinating seeds and seedlings. We isolated Pythium spp. from soil of a tropical forest in Panama. Then, in an inoculation experiment, we determined the pathogenicity of 75 tropical isolates of unknown pathogenicity and seven pathogenic temperate isolates of Pythium on seeds and/or seedlings of eight tropical tree species. Only three tropical isolates, one identified as P. ultimum and two as P. aphanidermatum, were pathogenic. Tropical pathogenic isolates were pathogenic on 4-6 of eight tree species. Temperate isolates were pathogenic on 0-4 of eight species, indicating that some tropical tree species are susceptible to novel isolates of Pythium. No tree species was susceptible to all isolates and two species were not susceptible to any isolate. Collectively, these results indicate that these Pythium isolates vary widely in their pathogenicity, causing differential mortality of potential host species; likewise, the tree species vary in their susceptibility to a given Pythium isolate. These differences in pathogenicity and susceptibility indicate some support for the Janzen-Connell assumption of host specificity. While they are not restricted to a single species, their intermediate level of specificity suggests that Pythium spp. have the potential to have some effect on forest community structure and diversity.
- Damping-off disease
- Janzen-Connell hypothesis
- Seeds and seedlings
- Soil pathogens
- Tropical semi-deciduous forest
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics