Evolutionary tools for phytosanitary risk analysis: phylogenetic signal as a predictor of host range of plant pests and pathogens



Gregory S. Gilbert, Environmental Studies – 405 ISB, University of California, 1156 High St., Santa Cruz, CA 95064, USA.

Tel.: +1(831) 459 5002;

fax: +1(831) 459-4015;

e-mail: ggilbert@ucsc.edu


Assessing risk from a novel pest or pathogen requires knowing which local plant species are susceptible. Empirical data on the local host range of novel pests are usually lacking, but we know that some pests are more likely to attack closely related plant species than species separated by greater evolutionary distance. We use the Global Pest and Disease Database, an internal database maintained by the United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service – Plant Protection and Quarantine Division (USDA APHIS-PPQ), to evaluate the strength of the phylogenetic signal in host range for nine major groups of plant pests and pathogens. Eight of nine groups showed significant phylogenetic signal in host range. Additionally, pests and pathogens with more known hosts attacked a phylogenetically broader range of hosts. This suggests that easily obtained data – the number of known hosts and the phylogenetic distance between known hosts and other species of interest – can be used to predict which plant species are likely to be susceptible to a particular pest. This can facilitate rapid assessment of risk from novel pests and pathogens when empirical host range data are not yet available and guide efficient collection of empirical data for risk evaluation.