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Ecology of Fungal Plant Pathogens

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  • Author: Aad J. Termorshuizen1
  • Editors: Joseph Heitman2, Pedro W. Crous3
    Affiliations: 1: Soil Cares Research, 6709 PA Wageningen, The Netherlands; 2: Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC 27710; 3: CBS-KNAW Fungal Diversity Centre, Royal Dutch Academy of Arts and Sciences, Utrecht, The Netherlands
  • Source: microbiolspec November 2016 vol. 4 no. 6 doi:10.1128/microbiolspec.FUNK-0013-2016
  • Received 02 June 2016 Accepted 18 August 2016 Published 18 November 2016
  • Aad J. Termorshuizen, aad.termorshuizen@soilcaresresearch.com
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  • Abstract:

    Fungal plant pathogens are ubiquitous and highly diverse. Key to their success is high host density, which notably is the case in agroecosystems. Several hypotheses related to the effects of plant pathogens on plant diversity (the Janzen-Connell hypothesis, the dilution effect hypothesis) and the phenomenon of higher biomass in plant mixtures (i.e., overyielding) can all be explained by the quantitative interplay between host and pathogen density. In many agroecosystems, fungal plant pathogens cause great losses, since in monocultures diseased plants cannot be replaced by healthy plants. On the other hand, in natural ecosystems fungal plant pathogens shape the succession of vegetation and enhance the biodiversity of forests and grasslands. When pathogens are introduced into areas outside their natural range, they may behave differently, causing severe damage. Once introduced, changes may occur such as hybridization with other closely related pathogens or host shifts, host jumps, or horizontal gene transfer. Such changes can be hazardous for both agricultural and natural ecosystems.

  • Citation: Termorshuizen A. 2016. Ecology of Fungal Plant Pathogens. Microbiol Spectrum 4(6):FUNK-0013-2016. doi:10.1128/microbiolspec.FUNK-0013-2016.

Key Concept Ranking

Plant Diseases
Horizontal Gene Transfer
Plant Pathogens


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Fungal plant pathogens are ubiquitous and highly diverse. Key to their success is high host density, which notably is the case in agroecosystems. Several hypotheses related to the effects of plant pathogens on plant diversity (the Janzen-Connell hypothesis, the dilution effect hypothesis) and the phenomenon of higher biomass in plant mixtures (i.e., overyielding) can all be explained by the quantitative interplay between host and pathogen density. In many agroecosystems, fungal plant pathogens cause great losses, since in monocultures diseased plants cannot be replaced by healthy plants. On the other hand, in natural ecosystems fungal plant pathogens shape the succession of vegetation and enhance the biodiversity of forests and grasslands. When pathogens are introduced into areas outside their natural range, they may behave differently, causing severe damage. Once introduced, changes may occur such as hybridization with other closely related pathogens or host shifts, host jumps, or horizontal gene transfer. Such changes can be hazardous for both agricultural and natural ecosystems.

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Characteristics of the three major ecological groups of fungal plant pathogens

Source: microbiolspec November 2016 vol. 4 no. 6 doi:10.1128/microbiolspec.FUNK-0013-2016

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