A size-structured plant population model is developed to study the evolution of pathogen-induced leaf shedding under various environmental conditions. The evolutionary stable strategy (ESS) of the leaf shedding rate is determined for two scenarios: i) a constant leaf shedding strategy and ii) an infection load driven leaf shedding strategy.
The model predicts that ESS leaf shedding rates increase with nutrient availability. No effect of plant density on the ESS leaf shedding rate is found even though disease severity increases with plant density.
When auto-infection, that is increased infection due to spores produced on the plant itself, plays a key role in further disease increase on the plant, shedding leaves removes disease that would otherwise contribute to disease increase on the plant itself. Consequently leaf shedding responses to infections may evolve. When external infection, that is infection due to immigrant spores, is the key determinant, shedding a leaf does not reduce the force of infection on the leaf shedding plant. In this case leaf shedding will not evolve.
Under a low external disease pressure adopting an infection driven leaf shedding strategy is more efficient than adopting a constant leaf shedding strategy, since a plant adopting an infection driven leaf shedding strategy does not shed any leaves in the absence of infection, even when leaf shedding rates are high. A plant adopting a constant leaf shedding rate sheds the same amount of leaves regardless of the presence of infection.
Based on the results we develop two hypotheses that can be tested if the appropriate plant material is available.