Native perennial and non-native annual grasses shape pathogen community composition and disease severity in a California grassland

Abstract

The densities of highly competent plant hosts (i.e. those that are susceptible to and successfully transmit a pathogen) may shape pathogen community composition and disease severity, altering disease risk and impacts. Life history and evolutionary history can influence host competence; longer lived species tend to be better defended than shorter lived species and pathogens adapt to infect species with which they have longer evolutionary histories. It is unclear, however, how the densities of species that differ in competence due to life and evolutionary histories affect plant pathogen community composition and disease severity. We examined foliar fungal pathogens of two host groups in a California grassland – native perennial and non-native annual grasses. We first characterized pathogen community composition and disease severity of the two host groups to approximate differences in competence. We then used observational and manipulated gradients of native perennial and non-native annual grass densities to assess the effects of each host group on pathogen community composition and disease severity in 1-m2 plots. Native perennial and non-native annual grasses hosted distinct pathogen communities but shared generalist pathogens. Native perennial grasses experienced 26% higher disease severity than non-native annuals. Only the observational gradient of native perennial grass density affected disease severity; there were no other significant relationships between host group density and either disease severity or pathogen community composition. The life and evolutionary histories of grasses likely influence their competence for different pathogen species, exemplified by distinct pathogen communities and differences in disease severity. However, there was limited evidence that the density of either host group affected pathogen community composition or disease severity. Therefore, competence for different pathogens likely shapes pathogen community composition and disease severity but may not interact with host density to alter disease risk and impacts at small scales.

Publication
Journal of Ecology, 109(2)
Amy E. Kendig
Amy E. Kendig
Postdoctoral Researcher

ecologist and data scientist specializing in human impacts in plant communities

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