Conophthorus radiatae Hopkins, Ernobius punctulatus Fall, and Pityophthorus spp. infest cones and twigs of Monterey pines (Pinus radiata D. Don) and thus may be important vectors of the pitch canker fungus Fusarium subglutinans f. sp. pini in the central coast of California. Fifteen percent of 1st-year Monterey pine conelets infested with C. radiatae prior to August 1990 developed pitch canker by May 1991. Conophthorus radiatae, E. punctulatus, and Pityophthorus spp. were dissected from some of these conelets and found carrying F. s. pini. Between June 1990 and May 1991, 16% of 695 randomly selected uninfested 1st-year conelets from a total of 329 separate cone whorls were infested by at least one of the above beetle species, and F. s. pini was isolated from 42% of the attacked conelets. Average percentage contamination of beetles per conelet was highest for adults of Pityophthorus spp. (38%), followed by adults of C. radiatae (33%), larvae of E. punctulatus (24%), and larvae of Pityophthorus spp. (5%). There were significant associations between conelets that contained contaminated C. radiatae, Pityophthorus spp., and/or E. punctulatus and conelets with F. s. pini.
Under experimental conditions, C. radiatae and E. punctulatus transmitted the fungus to healthy cones. Ernobius punctulatus required an entrance tunnel by C. radiatae to enter and infect the cone. Artificially wounded cones did not develop pitch canker. Intra- and interspecific transmission of F. s. pini was demonstrated among these beetle species. In infested branch tips without cones, interspecific transmission of F. s. pini between E. punctulatus and Pityophthorus spp. was also demonstrated.
The roles of C. radiatae and E. punctulatus as vectors of F. s. pini and of Pityophthorus spp. as potential vectors are discussed in relation to the epidemiology of pitch canker disease. The spread of pitch canker to California’s native pines as well as other conifers may be enhanced by interspecific transmission of F. s. pini between E. punctulatus and C. radiatae in cones and between E. punctulatus and Pityophthorus spp. in branch tips. Ernobius punctulatus provides a pathway for the fungus to potential insect vectors that attack several hosts and a variety of plant parts.