Geographic distribution of plant pathogens in response to climate change




Geographic distributions of pathogens are the outcome of dynamic processes involving host availability, susceptibility and abundance, suitability of climate conditions, and historical contingency including evolutionary change. Distributions have changed fast and are changing fast in response to many factors, including climatic change. The response time of arable agriculture is intrinsically fast, but perennial crops and especially forests are unlikely to adapt easily. Predictions of many of the variables needed to predict changes in pathogen range are still rather uncertain, and their effects will be profoundly modified by changes elsewhere in the agricultural system, including both economic changes affecting growing systems and hosts and evolutionary changes in pathogens and hosts. Tools to predict changes based on environmental correlations depend on good primary data, which is often absent, and need to be checked against the historical record, which remains very poor for almost all pathogens. We argue that at present the uncertainty in predictions of change is so great that the important adaptive response is to monitor changes and to retain the capacity to innovate, both by access to economic capital with reasonably long-term rates of return and by retaining wide scientific expertise, including currently less fashionable specialisms.