Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Plant and Soil Science


The eastern hemlock [Tsuga canadensis (L.) Carrière] is one of the native dominant forest components of northeastern US. At present, these valuable stands face an alarming decline, in part due to the Fiorinia externa, elongate hemlock scale (EHS), (Hemiptera: Coccoidea: Diaspididae). The armored shield of F. externa provides an excellent defense against insecticides, natural enemies and adverse conditions. Chemical and classical biocontrol methods have been unable to stop the spread of this pest. Recently, the occurrence of an epizootic within the F. externa population in the Mianus River Gorge Preserve in Bedford, NY revealed a promising opportunity for control of this scale. Entomopathogenic fungi represent a valuable, although under-utilized, group of organisms with unique capabilities for self-sustaining pest management. Given the significant impact of this epizootic on F. externa, we have conducted extensive research on the biology, genetics and biological control potential of this epizootic. We molecularly identified a complex of entomopathogenic, phytopathogenic, and endophytic fungi associated with the epizootic in 36 localities within the states of New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and New Jersey. One fungus, Colletotrichum sp., was the most commonly isolated organism in populations of F. externa within areas of the epizootic. The host range of this Colletotrichum species comprised both insects and plants, although diverse life cycles occured in the different hosts. Endophytic growth was observed in 28 species of plants comprising 18 families (52% of the sampling), whereas in F. externa biotrophic and necotrophic growth was detected. Colletotrichum is a widely known phytopathogenic genus and reports of entomopathogenic activity are extremely rare. In order to understand the biological processes involved in the host-pathogen interactions we quantified the pathogenicity and virulence of this Colletotrichum sp. to four insect families and six plants families as well as the occurrence of sexual recombination in this Colletotrichum sp., both in vitro and in planta. We observed that this Colletotrichum sp. displays a propensy to induce rapid disease and mortality in F. externa hosts. Phylogenetic analysis comprising six of the most commonly studied nuclear genes in molecular phylogenetics (D1/D2 domain of the 28 rDNA gene, ITS region, β-Tubulin 2, GPDH gene, GS gene and HMG box at the MAT1-2 mating-type gene) and RAPDs showed this fungus is closely related to phytopathogenic strains of Colletotrichum acutatum and that it may represent a single population lineage of this species (i.e., Colletotrichum acutatum forma specialis fiorinia). Though a large body of information exists regarding the phytopathogenic genus Colletotrichum, ours is only the second reported entomopathogenic strain. It is not clear whether the colonization of an insect by this fungus is truly rare or a common but undetected event. Sexual recombination, observed in planta and in vitro, could be the means by which new genetic variants are generated leading to new biotypes with a selective advantage to colonize new hosts, which in this case is a novel host in a different kingdom.