Clonality and long-distance migration of Puccinia striiformis f.sp. tritici in north-west Europe



The biotrophic fungus Puccinia striiformis f.sp. tritici, a basidiomycete that causes yellow rust on wheat, is spread by wind-dispersed spores. Analysis of amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP) variation showed that the fungus frequently migrates between the UK, Germany, France and Denmark. There is no biological evidence for sexual or parasexual reproduction under natural conditions, and this was supported by the lack of recombination, as revealed by AFLP, over the time and area represented by the samples in this study. A phylogeographic analysis revealed that there was effectively a single, clonal population in the four countries, up to 1700 km apart, consistent with a ‘continent-island’ model in which Denmark is the recipient of migrants from other countries. In five cases, specific pathogen clones were dispersed between the UK and Denmark, and on at least two recent occasions clones were also spread from the UK to Germany and France, causing outbreaks of yellow rust on wheat cultivars that were previously resistant to the disease in these countries. The agronomic consequences of migration were enhanced because of the limited genetic diversity for yellow rust resistance in wheat cultivars in the area. These results demonstrate that long-distance migration of pathogen clones, coupled with low diversity in the host species, may cause previously useful resistance genes to become ineffective for disease control on a continental scale.