Researchers to discuss link between climate change, plant disease

The New Frontiers in Plant Health symposium will bring researchers from across the country together Wednesday in St. Paul.

Researchers from the University of Minnesota and other universities across the country will gather Wednesday on the St. Paul campus to discuss the effects climate change is having on the prevalence and severity of plant diseases. The effects climate change is having on plant disease, which can be caused by bacteria, viruses or disease carrying insects, is not fully known, plant pathology department head Carol Ishimaru said, and the symposium is designed to bring some of the leading researchers together to discuss the issue. âÄúOur symposium is very timely,âÄù she said. âÄúThere are very few studies out on climate change impacts on plant diseases.âÄù The researchers will be meeting at the New Frontiers in Plant Health symposium at the St. Paul Student Center as part of the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences Solution-Driven Science Symposium series. New Frontiers in Plant Health is the fifth symposium held since the Solution-Driven Science series was launched in 2007. Abel Ponce de Leon, a senior associate dean in CFANS, said the series is designed to try and bring balance to complex and controversial issues being worked on in the college. âÄúRelated to the work that we do, there are always some controversial issues,âÄù he said. The symposia are intended âÄúto highlight those controversial issues and have people ask about them and get information about them from both sides of the discussion.âÄù Mark Seeley , a soil, water and climate professor, will be addressing how trends in climate change are affecting plant disease at the symposium. Climate change affects precipitation and temperature patterns, Seeley said, making environments more hospitable to disease-causing organisms that could not previously survive there. Shorter, milder winters are one consequence of climate change, Seeley said, which allows micro-organisms in the soil to survive when they might not have in colder temperatures. âÄúThere are micro-organisms in the soil that, in historic context, would always suffer high mortality because of our winter,âÄù he said. âÄúNow our winters are mild enough that âĦ some of these can survive our winters.âÄù Because not all plant diseases are affected by climate change in the same way, Jim Kurle, a plant pathology professor speaking at the event, said the issue is too complex for âÄúa simple fix.âÄù While some diseases could become more widespread or more severe as climate changes, he said the threat of other diseases could be reduced. Kurle pointed to an increase of a disease affecting wheat in the Red River Valley as possibly being tied to differences in precipitation patterns as a result of climate change. The fungus wheat scab can cause decreased yields from grains and can make it unsafe for humans to eat. Kurle said an increase in wheat scab has âÄúdevastatedâÄù the economy of the Red River Valley. By bringing researchers from different parts of the country together, Kurle said he hopes they can work to identify which diseases are real threats that must be addressed and which diseases wonâÄôt need to be dealt with. âÄúYou donâÄôt want to waste money or time breeding for diseases that really arenâÄôt going to be a problem,âÄù Kurle said.