Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Nonlinear shifts in infectious rust disease due to climate change

August 24, 2021

Range shifts of infectious plant disease are expected under climate change. As plant diseases move, emergent abiotic-biotic interactions are predicted to modify their distributions, leading to unexpected changes in disease risk. Evidence of these complex range shifts due to climate change, however, remains largely speculative. Here, we combine a long-term study of the infectious tree disease, white pine blister rust, with a six-year field assessment of drought-disease interactions in the southern Sierra Nevada. We find that climate change between 1996 and 2016 moved the climate optimum of the disease into higher elevations. The nonlinear climate change-disease relationship contributed to an estimated 5.5 (4.4–6.6) percentage points (p.p.) decline in disease prevalence in arid regions and an estimated 6.8 (5.8–7.9) p.p. increase in colder regions. Though climate change likely expanded the suitable area for blister rust by 777.9 (1.0–1392.9) km2 into previously inhospitable regions, the combination of host-pathogen and drought-disease interactions contributed to a substantial decrease (32.79%) in mean disease prevalence between surveys. Specifically, declining alternate host abundance suppressed infection probabilities at high elevations, even as climatic conditions became more suitable. Further, drought-disease interactions varied in strength and direction across an aridity gradient—likely decreasing infection risk at low elevations while simultaneously increasing infection risk at high elevations. These results highlight the critical role of aridity in modifying host-pathogen-drought interactions. Variation in aridity across topographic gradients can strongly mediate plant disease range shifts in response to climate change.

Publication Year 2021
Title Nonlinear shifts in infectious rust disease due to climate change
DOI 10.1038/s41467-021-25182-6
Authors Joan Dudney, Claire Willing, Adrian Das, Andrew M. Latimer, Jonathan C B Nesmith, John J. Battles
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Nature Communications
Index ID 70224580
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Western Ecological Research Center