New research shows that pathogens that attack agricultural crops show remarkable adaptability to new climates and new plant hosts.
Researchers studied the temperature preferences and host plant diversity of hundreds of fungi and oomycetes that attack our crops and found that plant pathogens can specialise on particular temperatures or host plants, or have wide temperature or host ranges. Recently-developed statistical methods were used to investigate the co-evolution between pathogens and their hosts, showing that pathogens can readily evolve to attack new host plants.
Comments from Tom Chaloner, SWBio DTP student:
” We have collated the largest dataset on plant pathogen temperature responses, and made this available for the scientific community. Our data allow us to test some of the most fundamental questions in ecology and evolution. For example, we found that temperature preferences are narrower when pathogens are growing within plants, demonstrating the difference between the so-called fundamental niche and the realised niche.”
Full University of Exeter press release >>
Tom’s supervisor, Dr Dan Bebber (also our DTP Research Theme Champion), has written a blog about how the paper came to be. Interestingly, the work arose from a very rare book purchased by Dan from an antiquarian scientific bookseller in Paris. Blog post >>
Paper: Geometry and evolution of the ecological niche in plant-associated microbes by Thomas M. Chaloner, Sarah J. Gurr and Daniel P. Bebber in Nature Communications