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Habitat fragmentation increases vulnerability to disease in wild plants

Date:
June 12, 2014
Source:
Academy of Finland
Summary:
Proximity to other meadows increases disease resistance in wild meadow plants, according to a new study. The study analyzed the epidemiological dynamics of a fungal pathogen in the archipelago of Finland. The study surveyed more than 4,000 Plantago lanceolata meadows and their infection status by a powdery mildew fungus in the Åland archipelago of Finland.

Podosphaera plantaginis on Plantago lanceolata leaf
Credit: Photo Sussanna Kekkonen

Proximity to other meadows increases disease resistance in wild meadow plants, according to a study led by Anna-Liisa Laine at the University of Helsinki. The results of the study, analysing the epidemiological dynamics of a fungal pathogen in the archipelago of Finland, will be published in Science on 13 June 2014.

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The study surveyed more than 4,000 Plantago lanceolata meadows and their infection status by a powdery mildew fungus in the Åland archipelago of Finland. The surveys have continued since 2001, resulting in one of the world's largest databases on disease dynamics in wild plant populations.

"Contrary to expectations of ecological laws, there was less disease in those areas of the landscape that supported dense meadow networks. This suggests that disease resistance has increased in these areas where there's more gene flow between the plant populations. This hypothesis was confirmed in a laboratory study where we measured a higher susceptibility to infection in plants originating from isolated meadows. The results are a powerful demonstration that while plants stand still, their genes don't. Landscape structure strongly impacts how pollen and seed travel, shaping the genetic diversity of local populations," says Laine.

In nature, Laine says, diseases appear to be "between the devil and the deep blue sea" -- either their host populations are small and fragmented or, when abundant, they have evolved higher levels of disease resistance.

Pathogens and pests are not unique to agricultural environment as wild populations also host diverse pathogen communities. However, devastating epidemics that are characteristic of agricultural pathogens are rarely documented in nature.

According to Laine, the mechanisms that keep diseases "in check" in nature are poorly understood. Most epidemiological research targets the phase of rapid disease spread. However, much could be learned by studying the mechanisms that enable long-term persistence of infection at moderate levels. The Plantago meadow network is ideal for this purpose as typically less than 10 per cent of the meadows are infected.

Anna-Liisa Laine is an Academy Research Fellow funded by the Academy of Finland. Her research on disease evolution and epidemiology is funded through the Academy's Centre of Excellence Programme and the European Research Council's Starting Grant funding scheme.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Academy of Finland. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. J. Jousimo, A. J. M. Tack, O. Ovaskainen, T. Mononen, H. Susi, C. Tollenaere, A.-L. Laine. Ecological and evolutionary effects of fragmentation on infectious disease dynamics. Science, 2014; 344 (6189): 1289 DOI: 10.1126/science.1253621

Cite This Page:

Academy of Finland. "Habitat fragmentation increases vulnerability to disease in wild plants." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 12 June 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140612142313.htm>.
Academy of Finland. (2014, June 12). Habitat fragmentation increases vulnerability to disease in wild plants. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 26, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140612142313.htm
Academy of Finland. "Habitat fragmentation increases vulnerability to disease in wild plants." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140612142313.htm (accessed January 26, 2015).

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