AbstractHuanglongbing (HLB) is a serious disease of Citrus sp. worldwide. In Africa and the Mascarene Islands, a similar disease is known as African citrus greening (ACG) and is associated with the bacterium Candidatus Liberibacter africanus (Laf). In recent years, Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus (Las) associated with the severe HLB has been reported in Ethiopia. Thus, we aimed to identify the Liberibacter species affecting citrus, the associated vectors in Eastern Africa and their ecological distribution. We assessed the presence of generic Liberibacter in symptomatic leaf samples by quantitative PCR. Subsequently, we sequenced the 50 S ribosomal protein L10 (rplJ) gene region in samples positive for Liberibacters and identified the species by comparison with public sequence data using phylogenetic reconstruction and genetic distances. We detected generic Liberibacter in 26%, 21% and 66% of plants tested from Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya, respectively. The rplJ sequences revealed the most prevalent Liberibacters in Uganda and Ethiopia were LafCl (22%) and Las (17%), respectively. We detected Las in Kenya for the first time from three sites in the coastal region. Finally, we modelled the potential habitat suitability of Las in Eastern Africa using MaxEnt. The projection showed large areas of suitability for the pathogen in the three countries surveyed. Moreover, the potential distribution in Eastern Africa covered important citrus-producing parts of Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, and included regions where the disease has not been reported. These findings will guide in the development of an integrated pest management strategy to ACG/HLB management in Africa.
‘Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus’, the bacterium associated with citrus Huanglongbing (HLB), was reported from Uganda and tentatively from Tanzania, posing a threat to citriculture in Africa. Two surveys of citrus expressing typical HLB symptoms were conducted in Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania to verify reports of ‘Ca. L. asiaticus’ and to assess the overall threat of HLB to eastern and southern African citrus production. Samples were analyzed for the presence of ‘Candidatus Liberibacter’ species by real-time PCR and partial sequencing of three housekeeping genes, 16S rDNA, rplJ, and omp. ‘Ca. L. africanus’, the bacterium historically associated with HLB symptoms in Africa, was detected in several samples. However, samples positive in real-time PCR for ‘Ca. L. asiaticus’ were shown not to contain ‘Ca. L. asiaticus’ by sequencing. Sequences obtained from these samples were analogous to ‘Ca. L. africanus subsp. clausenae’, identified from an indigenous Rutaceae species in South Africa, and not to ‘Ca. L. asiaticus’. Results indicate a nontarget amplification of the real-time assay and suggest that previous reports of ‘Ca. L. asiaticus’ from Uganda and Tanzania may be mis-identifications of ‘Ca. L. africanus subsp. clausenae’. This subspecies was additionally detected in individual Diaphorina citri and Trioza erytreae specimens recovered from collection sites. This is the first report of ‘Ca. L. africanus subsp. clausenae’ infecting citrus and being associated with HLB symptoms in this host.