Links between natural systems and crop pathogen communities

July 28th, 2016

A new visitor to our team, Dr Hanna Susi, is building on her knowledge of variation in natural fungal communities to assess evolution in agricultural contexts. Dr Susi, from the Department of Biosciences at the University of Helsinki, Finland, has spent some time examining pathogen communities on a wild plant, Plantago lanceolata. This plant is found in distinct meadow patches in the Åland Islands in South-West Finland and so is ideal for studying how spatially separated pathogen communities move and change over time.

Dr Hanna Susi examining plants to characterize fungal pathogens and plant health

Dr Hanna Susi examining plants to characterize fungal pathogens and plant health

Whilst Dr Susi is visiting us in Australia she is analysing a data set that has characterised flax rust fungus populations from sites in different ecological contexts over a long time period (1986-2010). By looking at variation in pathogen populations collected from sites with different environmental conditions we can start to see how the environment selects for certain characteristics in the genome. “If these alterations to the genome impact spread and infection by pathogens there could be epidemiological implications” said Dr Susi.

The visit to our research team gives Dr Susi the opportunity to examine how pathogens evolve in agricultural situations. Especially how co-infection with multiple stripe-rust strains impacts plant health. In susceptible varieties of wheat, stripe rust, caused the fungus Puccinia striiformis f.sp. tritici., can cause significant crop losses in Australia.


“Getting a clearer picture of the role that pathogen diversity plays in plant health is critical for understanding outbreaks both in natural and agricultural systems” – Dr Hanna Susi


Dr Susi’s visit is supported by a fellowship from the Finnish Cultural Foundation. Her research is aligned with a GRDC-funded project CSP00192.