My PhD project examines tea as a potential new agricultural crop for the state of Florida. Florida shares many of the same environmental growing conditions as tea production centers in Asia, yet no information is available about how tea will perform in Florida. My dissertation is comprised of three chapters: one chapter focuses on the anthracnose disease of tea caused by the fungus Colletotrichum camelliae, one chapter examines heat stress physiology in tea plants, and the last chapter explores the interaction between the two. The first chapter focuses on characterizing and rating the incidence and severity of the anthracnose disease on seven accessions of tea in a field trial at Citra, Florida. We recently discovered that variations in pathogenicity may have to do with different pathogens (all of which are Colletotrichum spp.) causing the same disease (anthracnose). By trying to establish what populations of which pathogen are already in the state of Florida infecting tea, we can see how these populations shift over time. This work also has a wider impact as some of the Colletotrichum species we have identified infect citrus, blueberry, and strawberry. For the second chapter of my dissertation, I am investigating heat stress tolerance. I have been using a whole plant assay/detached stem assay to look at photosystem 2 efficiency as a quick screening of heat stress tolerance. Lastly, I would like to explore the interactions between the topics of the previous two chapters: how heat and drought stress impact the anthracnose disease on tea plants. Plants are weakened by nutritional deficiencies and environmental stress events, like heat and drought, and may be more susceptible to Colletotrichum infection. Plant responses to heat may influence how the pathogen completes its life cycle.
Research Areas: Physiology
UF Plant Science Council
UF Plant Pathology Graduate Student Organization
UF Tea Education and Appreciation