Investigating the Biology of False Blossom Phytoplasma and its Leafhopper Vector to Inform Integrated Pest Management Approaches for Cranberry Growers

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2022: $14,658.00
Projected End Date: 05/31/2024
Grant Recipient: University of Wisconsin Madison
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Dr. Christelle Guédot
University of Wisconsin - Madison
Faculty Advisor:


  • Fruits: berries (cranberries)


No practices identified

Proposal abstract:

Cranberry false blossom disease (CFBD) devastated the U.S. commercial cranberry industry in the 1920’s. The causal agent, cranberry false blossom phytoplasma, is vectored by the blunt-nosed leafhopper (BNLH; Limotettix vaccinii). Through combined efforts of cultivar breeding and chemical controls, CFBD and its vector were seemingly eliminated in commercial cranberry production nearly 100 years ago. In recent years however, localized occurrences of CFBD have been noted, as well as outbreaks of the BNLH vector in North America. The objective of this study is to survey the distribution and diversity of CFBD and leafhoppers in Wisconsin cranberry marshes. In 2021 preliminary field surveys for CFBD, uprights displaying characteristic symptoms including witches’ broom and floral abnormalities, were collected from three farms throughout central Wisconsin. Uprights were dissected by plant organ type for DNA extraction and sequencing. All plant organs from symptomatic uprights were positive for the CFBD phytoplasma. For preliminary data on the occurrence of BNLH, weekly collections were performed via sweep net over 20m transects along the bed edges and center lines from May through August, 2021 in 27 beds across five farms. The BNLH comprised 80% of the adult leafhopper population throughout the entire sampling period, with a nymphal stage lasting until late June and an adult stage ending in August. In 2023, we will continue CFBD testing and BNLH sampling at four cranberry marshes, five beds each, throughout the state of Wisconsin. Additionally, a controlled cage study will determine the degree of feeding injury done to cranberry uprights by BNLH, offering insight into the level of concern over population life stage and density. The findings of this study contribute to the understanding of this re-emerging pathogen and its vector, informing the industry of mitigation strategies for phytoplasma transmission by highlighting key phenological patterns of the vector species.

Project objectives from proposal:

The expected learning outcomes for this project are: 1) researchers and cranberry growers will learn the extent of systemic infection and seasonal total load of the CFBD phytoplasma throughout cranberry organ tissues; 2) researchers and cranberry growers will learn the seasonal phenology of the BNLH vector; 3) researchers and cranberry growers will learn when feeding is occurring on cranberries by BNLH; 4) researchers and cranberry growers will learn the the difference in feeding injury based on BNLH abundance. The expected action outcomes of this project  can be split into the short and long term, with short term outcomes being: 1) cranberry growers will learn how to identify the symptoms of CFBD and its vector; 2) cranberry growers will learn the level of threat of BNLH feeding injury on yield. Long term outcomes are: 1) growers will know when CFBD is coming out of dormancy and adjust cultural controls for CFBD infection removal; 2) cranberry growers will refine chemical sprays to target BNLH populations at key life stage, based on the BNLH phenology, for optimal CFBD transmission prevention and preventing feeding injury from reaching damaging levels.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.