Plant disease epidemiology

Plant disease epidemiology is the study of disease in plant populations. Much like diseases of humans and other animals, plant diseases occur due to pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, oomycetes, nematodes, phytoplasmas, protozoa, and parasitic plants.[1] Plant disease epidemiologists strive for an understanding of the cause and effects of disease and develop strategies to intervene in situations where crop losses may occur. Destructive and non-destructive methods are used to detect diseases in plants. Additionally, understanding the responses of the immune system in plants will further benefit and limit the loss of crops. Typically successful intervention will lead to a low enough level of disease to be acceptable, depending upon the value of the crop.

Plant disease epidemiology is often looked at from a multi-disciplinary approach, requiring biological, statistical, agronomic and ecological perspectives. Biology is necessary for understanding the pathogen and its life cycle. It is also necessary for understanding the physiology of the crop and how the pathogen is adversely affecting it. Agronomic practices often influence disease incidence for better or for worse. Ecological influences are numerous. Native species of plants may serve as reservoirs for pathogens that cause disease in crops. Statistical models are often applied in order to summarize and describe the complexity of plant disease epidemiology, so that disease processes can be more readily understood.[2][3] For example, comparisons between patterns of disease progress for different diseases, cultivars, management strategies, or environmental settings can help in determining how plant diseases may best be managed. Policy can be influential in the occurrence of diseases, through actions such as restrictions on imports from sources where a disease occurs.

In 1963 J. E. van der Plank published "Plant Diseases: Epidemics and Control", a seminal work that created a theoretical framework for the study of the epidemiology of plant diseases.[4] This book provides a theoretical framework based on experiments in many different host pathogen systems and moved the study of plant disease epidemiology forward rapidly, especially for fungal foliar pathogens. Using this framework we can now model and determine thresholds for epidemics that take place in a homogeneous environment such as a mono-cultural crop field.[4]

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