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Brian Irish and Laurin Wheeler

A control burn was conducted in a mixed black oak—white oak—post oak stand to determine the effectiveness of fire at removing midstory and understory trees. The midstory and understory was predominately invading species of red maple, dogwood, black cherry, black gum, and mockernut hickory with lesser amounts of canopy species—black oak, white oak, post oak, and blackjack oak. A total of 17,000 stems/ha were top killed. All stems below 10 cm (15,600 stems/ha) were killed and all of the invading species were all top killed. Large black oak (greater than 20 cm) were killed by hypoxylon which may or may not have been related to fire. Soil pH increased from 4.6 (before) to 5.7 after the burn. The litter layer was almost completely removed. The biomass of the litter layer the year after the burn was 23% of the biomass before burning. Herbaceous plants began to invade the site in the first summer.

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Ricardo Goenaga, Heber Irizarry and Brian Irish

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Alan W. Meerow, Tomás Ayala-Silva and Brian M. Irish

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Alan W. Meerow, Tomás Ayala-Silva and Brian M. Irish

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Ricardo Goenaga, Brian Irish and Angel Marrero

Plantain (Musa balbisiana AAB) is a tropical rhizomatous perennial plant in the genus Musa spp., closely related to banana (Musa acuminata AAA). It is an important cash crop and staple for inhabitants in many parts of the world, including various ethnic groups in the United States. Black leaf streak disease (BLSD) or black sigatoka, caused by Pseudocercospora fijiensis (formerly Mycosphaerella fijiensis), is responsible for significant losses of this crop due to the high susceptibility of the most economically important cultivars. BLSD does not immediately kill plantain plants, but it causes severe leaf necrosis, which results in reduced photosynthetic area, thereby adversely impacting bunch weight and fruit production. Without cultural and chemical control, yields can be reduced by 20% to 80%, depending on severity. This study evaluated a BLSD-resistant cultivar, FHIA-21, against Maricongo, a standard commercial cultivar with no BLSD tolerance, at two locations in Puerto Rico on Ultisol (Corozal site) and Oxisol (Isabela site) soils. Total number of fruit and bunch yield were significantly higher at Isabela, with BLSD severity being significantly lower at this location. Average fruit production of ‘FHIA-21’ was significantly higher than that of ‘Maricongo’ at both locations, with fruit yields of 122,522 and 99,948 fruit/ha at Isabela and Corozal, respectively. Overall, fruit of ‘FHIA-21’ were significantly longer and had greater diameters than those of ‘Maricongo’. At Isabela, the mean bunch fruit weight was significantly higher for ‘FHIA-21’, but both cultivars exceeded the minimum local marketable fruit weight criterion of 270 g. At both locations, the numbers of functional leaves present at flowering and at harvest were significantly higher for ‘FHIA-21’ than for ‘Maricongo’, indicating more availability of photosynthetic area for ‘FHIA-21’ during the fruit-filling period. There were no significant differences between cultivars regarding the concentration of starch and soluble sugars for green fruit. Regarding ripe fruit, ‘FHIA-21’ had a significantly higher concentration of soluble sugars and less starch. In this study, ‘FHIA-21’ had good resistance against BLSD and, if accepted by consumers, is a viable alternative to current commercial cultivars. We also conclude from this study that the expression of the Banana streak virus (BSV) in planting material of this cultivar remains an unknown threat in yield decline of ‘FHIA-21’.

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Brian M. Irish, Ricardo Goenaga, Sirena Montalvo-Katz, Bernardo Chaves-Cordoba and Inge Van den Bergh

Bananas are one of the most important fruits, serving as a cash crop and staple food in many regions of the world. In Puerto Rico, bananas are an important agricultural industry, supplying all the fruit needed for local demand. Diseases significantly limit production, and the evaluation and adoption of improved genetic resistance in bananas might provide an avenue for long-term sustainable production. To this end, nine enhanced genotypes from international selection and breeding programs were introduced and evaluated for their response to black leaf streak (BLS) (Pseudocercospora fijiensis Morelet) and for their agronomic performance. Bananas were evaluated as part of a collaborative effort between the U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) Tropical Agriculture Research Station (TARS) and Bioversity International’s International Musa Testing Program (IMTP). Improved genotypes were compared with disease-resistant and disease-susceptible reference genotypes across two cropping cycles. Field plants were grown following commercial production practices with no BLS management. Significant differences in disease reactions were observed during both cropping cycles for test and reference genotypes. Under high disease pressure, ‘FHIA-21’, ‘FHLORBAN 916’, and ‘FHLORBAN 920’ test genotypes showed higher numbers of functional leaves and lower disease severity at harvest in both cycles. Short cycling times were also observed for the two FHLORBAN genotypes. Larger bunches with a high number of fruits were produced by the ‘IBP 12’, ‘IBP 5-B’, and ‘IBP 5-61’ selections. Several of the GCTCV test genotypes were extremely susceptible to BLS, did not perform as expected, and appeared to be off-types. Several of the test genotypes performed well, although currently none possessed all needed traits for a commercial banana substitute. Regardless, several test genotypes have agronomic potential because they have been selected for disease resistance to other important pathogens (e.g., fusarium wilt) and therefore have become part of the permanent TARS collection. Future efforts will continue to focus on the IMTP collaboration and introduction of promising banana genotypes for evaluations.

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Joseph Postman, Kim Hummer, Ed Stover, Robert Krueger, Phillip Forsline, L.J. Grauke, Francis Zee, Tomas Ayala-Silva and Brian Irish

The year 2005 marked the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Plant Germplasm System (NPGS), repositories devoted to clonally propagated, horticultural fruit and nut crops. During this quarter century, facilities in Hilo, Hawaii; Mayaguez, PR.; Miami, Fla.; and Riverside, Calif. were developed to preserve collections of tropical and subtropical fruit and nut crops; facilities in Brownwood, Texas; Corvallis, Ore.; Davis, Calif. and Geneva, N.Y. preserve the temperate crops. Each of these facilities now has internationally recognized, globally diverse collections of genetic resources for their assigned genera. Germplasm of unique genotypes are maintained as growing plants, evaluated for phenotypic and genotypic traits, documented in a national public germplasm database, and freely distributed as clonal propaggules to researchers and other germplasm users around the world. Seed collections represent wild populations for some crop relatives. These 8 genebanks maintain 30,000 accessions representing 1600 species of fruit and nut crops and their wild relatives. The genebanks distribute more than 15,000 accessions annually to international researchers. Although originally conceived as working collections for crop improvement, NPGS genebanks have also become invaluable in providing the raw materials for basic plant genetic research, reservoirs for rare or endangered species or vulnerable landraces, archives of historic cultivars, and field classrooms for educating the public. These collections preserve botanical treasures as well as the American horticultural heritage for now and for future generations.

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Ksenija Gasic, John E. Preece and David Karp