Phyllachora species infecting maize and other grass species in the Americas represents a complex of closely related species

Kirk Broders, Gloria Iriarte-Broders, Gary C. Bergstrom, Emmanuel Byamukama, Martin Chilvers, Christian Cruz, Felipe Dalla-Lana, Zachary Duray, Dean Malvick, Daren Mueller, Pierce Paul, Diane Plewa, Richard Raid, Alison E. Robertson, Catalina Salgado-Salazar, Damon Smith, Darcy Telenko, Katherine VanEtten, Nathan M. Kleczewski

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2 Scopus citations


The genus Phyllachora contains numerous obligate fungal parasites that produce raised, melanized structures called stromata on their plant hosts referred to as tar spot. Members of this genus are known to infect many grass species but generally do not cause significant damage or defoliation, with the exception of P. maydis which has emerged as an important pathogen of maize throughout the Americas, but the origin of this pathogen remains unknown. To date, species designations for Phyllachora have been based on host associations and morphology, and most species are assumed to be host specific. We assessed the sequence diversity of 186 single stroma isolates collected from 16 hosts representing 15 countries. Samples included both herbarium and contemporary strains that covered a temporal range from 1905 to 2019. These 186 isolates were grouped into five distinct species with strong bootstrap support. We found three closely related, but genetically distinct groups of Phyllachora are capable of infecting maize in the United States, we refer to these as the P. maydis species complex. Based on herbarium specimens, we hypothesize that these three groups in the P. maydis species complex originated from Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean. Although two of these groups were only found on maize, the third and largest group contained contemporary strains found on maize and other grass hosts, as well as herbarium specimens from maize and other grasses that include 10 species of Phyllachora. The herbarium specimens were previously identified based on morphology and host association. This work represents the first attempt at molecular characterization of Phyllachora species infecting grass hosts and indicates some Phyllachora species can infect a broad range of host species and there may be significant synonymy in the Phyllachora genus.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere8832
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was funded by the United States Department of Agriculture – Agricultural Research Service. FFAR‐ROAR grant to NK, CC, DT, MC, and DS with matching funds from Pioneer, The National Corn Growers Association, The Illinois Corn Growers Improvement Board, and Purdue University.

Publisher Copyright:
Published 2022. This article is a U.S. Government work and is in the public domain in the USA. Ecology and Evolution published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


  • biotrophs
  • pathogen diversity
  • phyllachorales
  • phylogeny
  • sympatric speciation
  • tar spot

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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