Loss of leaf pubescence and its physiological effects on Espeletia paipana (Asterales, Asteraceae), in the Boyacá-Colombia department
Espeletia paipana is an endangered giant caulescent rosette endemic to Boyacá department. In order to establish whether a plant disease, characterized by the loss of leaf pubescence (PPF) and attributed to the pathogenic action of endophytic microorganisms, is the cause of the increasing mortality of population, the physiological performance of the species was evaluated with and without PPF. The incidence (% leaves affected in each of the 27 individuals in the current population) and severity (% leaf area affected on 135 leaves) of the PPF were monitored over a period of nine months, in three topographic zones of different heights. During four consecutive days in both dry and wet season, physiological parameters as chlorophyll content index (ICC), stomatal conductance (Gs) and leaf temperature (Tfol) were measured in healthy and affected leaves. The study was complemented with isolations and pathogenicity tests to identify the causal agent of the PPF. Overall, although the disease incidence in E. paipana was constant over time, the severity progressed surpassing 60 % of the leaf area. The increasing of severity in the upper side of leaves was attributed to the photo-oxidative effect of high radiation between 11:00 h and 14:00 h of the day. The reduction of functional leaf area because of the PPF, led to low Gs with serious implications for carbon fixation and thus limiting growth and biomass renewal. The effect of season in Tfol varied according to the topographic zone, while the ICC did not present a defined pattern with respect to the PPF; its low values could be associated with the production of other pigments. Finally, although it is not possible to ensure that Botrytis sp. is the causative of the loss of leaf pubescence, it is postulated as the most probably causal agent due to its high representativeness in the isolates and its infectious potential during the pathogenicity tests. In general, the reduction of healthy leaf biomass and decrease of physiological performance suggest that PPF affect negatively the survival of E. paipana, which means that the use of biological controllers could be a strategy to mitigate its effect on the population.