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When does spatial diversification usefully maximise the durability of crop disease resistance?

By Benjamin Watkinson-Powell, Christopher A Gilligan, Nik J Cunniffe

Posted 08 Feb 2019
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/540013

Maximising the durability of crop disease resistance genes in the face of pathogen evolution is a major challenge in modern agricultural epidemiology. Spatial diversification in the deployment of resistance genes, where susceptible and resistant fields are more closely intermixed, is predicted to drive lower epidemic intensities over evolutionary timescales. This is due to an increase in the strength of dilution effects, caused by pathogen inoculum challenging host tissue to which it is not well-specialised. The factors that interact with and determine the magnitude of this spatial effect are not currently well understood however, leading to uncertainty over the pathosystems where such a strategy is most likely to be cost-effective. We model the effect on landscape scale disease dynamics of spatial heterogeneity in the arrangement of fields planted with either susceptible or resistant cultivars, and the way in which this effect depends on the parameters governing the pathosystem of interest. Our multi-season semi-discrete epidemiological model tracks spatial spread of wild-type and resistance breaking pathogen strains, and incorporates a localised reservoir of inoculum, as well as the effects of within and between field transmission. The pathogen dispersal characteristics, any fitness cost(s) of the resistance breaking trait, the efficacy of host resistance, and the length of the timeframe of interest, all influence the strength of the spatial diversification effect. These interactions, which are often complex and non-linear in nature, produce substantial variation in the predicted yield gain from the use of a spatial diversification strategy. This in turn allows us to make general predictions of the types of system for which spatial diversification is most likely to be cost-effective, paving the way for potential economic modelling and pathosystem specific evaluation. These results highlight the importance of studying the effect of genetics on landscape scale spatial dynamics within host-pathogen disease systems.

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