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Maintenance of variation in virulence and reproduction in populations of an agricultural plant pathogen

Citation

Dutta, Anik; Croll, Daniel; McDonald, Bruce A.; Barrett, Luke G. (2020), Maintenance of variation in virulence and reproduction in populations of an agricultural plant pathogen, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.j3tx95x9m

Abstract

Genetic diversity within pathogen populations is critically important for predicting pathogen evolution, disease outcomes, and prevalence. However, we lack a good understanding of the processes maintaining genetic variation and constraints on pathogen life‐history evolution. Here, we analyzed interactions between 12 wheat host genotypes and 145 strains of Zymoseptoria tritici from five global populations to investigate the evolution and maintenance of variation in pathogen virulence and reproduction. We found a strong positive correlation between virulence (amount of leaf necrosis) and reproduction (pycnidia density within lesions), with substantial variation in both traits maintained within populations. On average, highly virulent isolates exhibited higher reproduction, which might increase transmission potential in agricultural fields planted to homogeneous hosts at a high density. We further showed that pathogen strains with a narrow host range (i.e. specialists) for reproduction were on average less virulent, and those with a broader host range (i.e. generalists) were on average less fecund on a given specific host. These costs associated with adaptation to different host genotypes might constrain the emergence of generalists by disrupting the directional evolution of virulence and fecundity. We conclude that selection favoring pathogen strains that are virulent across diverse hosts, coupled with selection that maximizes fecundity on specific hosts, may explain the maintenance of these pathogenicity traits within and among populations.