Diversity and identification of fungi associated with needles of Pinus radiata in Tasmania

Needle fungi have been extensively studied in conifers but rarely in Pinus radiata. Previous studies of P. radiata have been based on fungal isolation and not direct PCR detection from needles. This research was a component of a study examining factors linked to spring needle cast (SNC) in Tasmanian P. radiata plantations and aimed to identify as many as possible of the fungal species commonly associated with P. radiata needles in Tasmanian plantations. Needle samples were collected from 13 sites representative of the range of sites in which P. radiata is grown in Tasmania. Fungi were detected by a direct PCR approach and identified using barcode sequences from a reference collection of isolates from Tasmania, mainland Australia and New Zealand as well as sequences from the international nucleotide sequence databases. The total number of molecular operational taxonomic units (MOTUs) was 152, with 127 detected by direct PCR and sequencing, and only 35 operational taxonomic units (OTUs) isolated by culture-based methods. Dothideomycetes was the most diverse class detected in this study, with many MOTUs detected by direct PCR and not isolated. Leotiomycetes was the second-most diverse class and Sordariomycetes third, with several OTUs frequently isolated but rarely or not at all detected by direct PCR. DNA sequence data facilitated the discrimination and identification of OTUs, but some effort was required to avoid confusion caused by poorly identified isolates in public DNA databases. This is the most comprehensive study yet of fungi associated with pine needles in Australia and highlights the hitherto unrecognised diversity of Teratosphaeriaceae in P. radiata.