Rising temperatures likely to increase damage caused by plant pathogens

New research in Nature Climate Change provides evidence that rising
temperatures are likely to increase crop losses as warmer soils favour
the growth of pathogenic soil fungi species.

Researchers led by
the Global Centre for Land-Based Innovation at Western Sydney University
sampled more than 235 locations with ecosystems that range from forests
and croplands to deserts. They found that as air and soil temperatures
progressively rise, the types of fungi likely to damage food plant
species are also projected to increase over the next three decades.

“Soil-borne
plant pathogens already cause hundreds of billions of dollars in crop
losses each year”, said Professor Brajesh Singh, a lead author of the
research program.

“Our study suggests that common plant pathogens
such as Fusarium and Alternaria species will become more prevalent under
projected global warming scenarios, which will add to the challenges of
maintaining world food production alongside other climate change-driven
crises and a burgeoning human population,” Professor Singh said.

The
study provides important evidence of not just the prevalence of plant
pathogenic fungi, but was also able to use modern DNA sequencing
techniques to determine the response of plant pathogens to rising
temperatures at a global scale.

This has enabled the development
of mapped regions that connect project climate change to crop and
ecosystem type to pinpoint where the greatest food security impacts are
likely to occur first.

“Combining multiple layers of data offers a very powerful means for pinpointing priority regions,” said Professor Singh.

“Since
most soil-borne plant pathogenic fungi are difficult to control with
chemicals, we can now focus our adaptation and resilience efforts more
precisely by targeting the most at-risk regions. We can advocate for
strategies that promote plant and human health, build healthy soils and
use non-chemical methods to win the battle between crops and pathogenic
fungi,” he said.

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