Assessing Vectors of Xylella fastidiosa in California: From Ecology to Transmission Dynamics
Although spittlebugs were first confirmed as vectors of Xylella fastidiosa in the 1950s, their role in epidemics of Pierce’s disease of grapevine in the California North Coast remains unknown. The goal of this dissertation was to assess the biology and ecology of spittlebug vectors, Philaenus spumarius and Aphrophora nr. permutata, in California North Coast vineyards in relation to Pierce’s disease and to characterize differences in X. fastidiosa transmission following acquisition by spittlebug and sharpshooter leafhopper vectors.In chapter 1, I provide a brief background on the plant pathogenic bacterium, X. fastidiosa, its associated diseases, and its relationship with plant hosts and insect vectors. I also contextualize and summarize the subsequent chapters of my dissertation. Chapter 2 explores the seasonal abundance and infectivity of P. spumarius in California North Coast vineyards. Analysis of sweep and trap data revealed significant effects of survey month, vineyard site, and year on adult abundance in sweep and trap surveys. Analysis of X. fastidiosa natural infectivity in groups of field-collected spittlebug adults showed significant difference in transmission rates among months. I propose hypotheses on how to contextualize P. spumarius infectivity within the established framework of Pierce’s disease winter recovery. In chapter 3, I present results from a four-year field study analyzing the effects of site characteristics and host plant community on the abundance and development of A. nr. permutata nymphs. Woodland and riparian sites hosted larger nymphal populations than sites surrounded by vineyards. Among plant cover taxa surveyed in 2020, A. nr. permutata nymph abundance was positively associated with Helminthotheca echoides, Vicia sativa, and Daucus carota cover and negatively associated with Taraxacum officinale cover. Analysis of the development surveys found a significant effect of site, year, and plant taxa on first detection of nymphs as well as a significant effect of site and year on the estimated development time between 1st and 5th instars. In chapter 4, I assess differences in X. fastidiosa transmission efficiency over time between P. spumarius and the blue green sharpshooter, Graphocephala atropunctata. There was a significant effect of days post-acquisition on the proportion of plants infected by P. spumarius but the effect of days post-acquisition on G. atropunctata transmission efficiency was not significant. I consider species specific feeding behaviors and mouthpart fluid dynamics to explain the observed transmission patterns.