Population dynamics and genetics of plant disease: a case study of anther-smut disease

Helen Miller Alexander, Peter H. Thrall, Janis Antonovics, Andrew M. Jarosz, Peter V. Oudemans

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

81 Scopus citations


A model by Levin and Udovic (1977) emphasizes the need for integration of studies of the numerical abundances and genetic composition of host and pathogen species. We use their conceptual framework to summarize our collaborative research on the ecological genetics of the anther-smut disease of Silene alba caused by the fungus Ustilago violacea. Our theoretical investigations have revealed the importance of the rate and mode of disease transmission on the likelihood of coexistence between host and pathogen. Our empirical studies have quantified patterns of disease spread on local and regional spatial scales and have shown that host genotypes differ greatly in resistance. Comparable genetic variation in pathogen virulence has not yet been demonstrated. The genetic composition of host populations alters numerical dynamics in experimental populations: disease declines in resistant populations, while host and pathogen appear to coexist in susceptible populations. Ecological outcomes also may be affected by the negative relationship between disease incidence and host flowering time, which may constitute a "cost" to resistance. We are currently expanding our work on the ecology and genetics of metapopulation dynamics of host and pathogen.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)990-996
Number of pages7
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1996

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


  • Anther-smut
  • Coexistence
  • Disease ecology
  • Host
  • Pathogen
  • Population ecology
  • Population genetics
  • Silene alba
  • Transmission
  • Ustilago violacea


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