Barley scald, caused by the fungal pathogen Rhynchosporium commune, is the most economically destructive disease of both winter and spring barley in Ireland and Scotland. The disease is capable of causing devastating yield losses of up to 40% in some crops. In order to manage the disease effectively, growers need up to date information on the effect of agronomic practices, varietal resistance and fungicide applications on disease epidemics. R. commune has continually demonstrated an ability to adapt to changes in control measures and sustainable control remains a massive challenge. The adaptability of the disease is in part due to an overreliance of growers on the individual components of control, coupled with high levels of genetic diversity within local/regional R. commune populations. A decline in sensitivity to the widely used group of fungicides strobilurins (QoI’s) has recently been reported in Ireland and the UK. If sustainable and durable control is to be achieved it is essential to both enhance the integration of control measures and to reduce, where possible, the potential diversity within populations. To achieve these goals, it is vital to first determine the levels of diversity that currently exist in the Irish and Scottish populations and subsequently determine how individual components of control impact upon it. The proposed project will establish a representative R. commune populations from different regions in Ireland and Scotland to determine local/region diversity that may exist. Subsequently, the impact of major agronomic practices such as variety choice, seed source, chemical seed treatment, tillage regime, crop sequence or the use of cover crops, currently implemented at farm level will be investigated to determine how they impact upon local and national R. commune populations. Understanding how these factors influence Rhynchosporium epidemics is crucial to establish new robust control measures.
The experimental approach will be focussed on establishing populations of R. commune from leaf isolations from winter and spring barley, and in addition using molecular methods to study population diversity in seed (an important source of pathogen spread). Field trials will be carried out in Scotland and Ireland using seed from diverse sources and single spore isolates of R. commune will be produced from infected leaf samples. R. commune population diversity will be assessed using SSR markers. The student will benefit from the combined supervision of Dr Francois Dussart (expert in molecular plant pathology), Dr Henry Creissen (expert in integrated pest management), Dr Neil Havis (expert in plant pathology), Dr Beatriz Orosa and Prof Gary Loake (experts in molecular plant science).
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