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Study and Conservation of Native Plant Pathogens on Wild Plants

15th August 2020

Comment by David Ingram, Past President & Honorary Member, BSPP.

 I congratulate Nichola Hawkins, Fay Newbery and @wildflower_hour on the launch of the inspired #wildplantdisease challenge. The time is absolutely right for these initiatives. I hope that they will be great successes and will lead to a UK-wide wild plant pathogen conservation strategy.

The notion of conserving any plant pathogen seems counter-intuitive, so why survey and conserve native pathogens on wild hosts?

 To answer I will go back to:

The 7th International Congress of Plant Pathology, Edinburgh, 1998, when I was President of BSPP and the Congress.

The aim of my Presidential Address was to place on the agenda the need for the BSPP and ISPP to formulate conservation policies for all plant pathogens, worldwide. I will return to this highly controversial proposal in a later paper.

Here, I will focus on that part of the address concerned with the conservation of native pathogens on native plants, for I set-out then the logic for doing so:

  1. Populations of native plant pathogens are essential components of all natural and semi-natural ecosystems, and contribute significantly to their structure, stability, nutrient cycling and productivity.
  2. Wild progenitors of crop plants coevolved with their native pathogens and this has generated a great diversity of disease resistance factors that have been and will remain a major resource for farmers and breeders in producing disease-resistant/tolerant cultivars.
  3. Native plant pathogens and parasites are of potentially great value to scientists as research tools and model systems for study; and to biotechnologists, as potential sources of novel drugs, pesticides, bio-control agents, bio-control strategies, foodstuffs etc.

For these and many other reasons, I believe it is essential to have strategies for conserving native plant pathogens, just as for all other components of native biodiversity.

This logic is argued more fully in the published address:

Ingram, D.S. (1999) ‘Biodiversity, plant pathogens and conservation (Presidential Address), Plant Pathology 48 433-442.

And in:

D.S. Ingram (2002) ‘The Diversity of Plant Pathogens and Conservation: Bacteria and Fungi, Sensu Lato; pp.241-267 (Chapter 9) in K. Sivasithamparam et al (Eds) Microorganisms in Plant Conservation and Biodiversity. Kluver Academic, London.

The time was not ripe in 1999 for my proposal to fly. In the meantime, however, there have been massive advances in: data gathering, curation and handling; communications technology and social media; and citizen science.  These make now the right time for #wildplantdisease, the @wildflowerhour challenge and all that will flow from them.

Finally, I draw attention to three focused initiatives that I am aware of in the UK that are relevant to #wildplantdisease and @wildflowerhour challenge:

1. An Accessible Book on the natural history of plant disease produced soon after the 1998 Congress: David Ingram & Noel Robertson (1999) Plant Disease – A Natural History New Naturalist series, Harper Collins, London (This probably remains the only wide-ranging, accessible book about plant diseases for naturalists in the UK)

2.  The Welsh Rust Group (Arthur Chater, Debbie Evans, Nigel Stringer & Ray Woods) has tackled native plant pathogen diversity and its conservation head on and has produced since 2015: Red Data Lists and Census Catalogues for Wales of native Rusts, Smuts and their relatives, Powdery Mildews and Downy Mildews. All available, on-line, free of charge, from: https://www.aber.ac.uk/waxcap/downloads

3. The Wyre Forest Study Group (WFSG), a distinguished citizen science research group, which since 1991 has been studying the natural history of the 75 square km of the Wyre Forest area in the West Midlands, has recently begun a survey of native plant pathogens under the local leadership of Rosemary Winnall. See: Ingram, D.S. & Winnall, R. (2020) ‘Native Plant Pathogens in the Wyre Forest: a Proposed Survey Wyre Forest Study Group Review, 2019, pp. 10-17.

 For background information on the Wyre Forest and the WFSG, see:

Brett Westwood, Peter Shirley, Rosemary Winnall & Harry Green (eds) (2015) The Nature of Wyre: a wildlife-rich forest in the heart of Britain, edited Pisces Publications, Newbury, 2015).

And for the continuing work of the Group, see their annual REVIEW (wyreforest.net)

I strongly recommend collaboration with the WFSG native plant disease initiative:

Contact, Rosemary Winnall, at secretary@wyreforest.net

 

Professor David Ingram (14th August, 2020)

Edinburgh University: Science, Technology and Innovation Studies; 

Lancaster University: Environment Centre

St Catharine’s College, Cambridge: Honorary Fellow

Email: d.s.ingram@ed.ac.uk

Webpage: STIS Edinburgh, Honorary/Visiting Staff, David S. Ingram

David Ingram (Image by Alison Ingram)

 

Between 1960 and 1990 David Ingram was successively: undergraduate and graduate student, Research Fellow, Lecturer and Reader in Plant Pathology in the Universities of Hull, Glasgow and Cambridge; in 1990 he became Regius Keeper (Director), Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh; from 2000, Master, St Catharines College, Cambridge; and from 2006-present Honorary Professor, Edinburgh and Lancaster Universities.

 

 

 

 

 

Part of the #wildplantdisease 2020 series of blogs.

Feature image: Anther Smut of Red Campion, Microbotryum lychnidis-dioicae (syn. Ustilago violacea). Image by Debbie White.