Rising Temperatures, the Dynamics of Plant Disease, and Food Availability

Melissa Pavloff

Plant Disease

I am investigating the effect of changing temperatures on host-parasite interactions to examine how climate change will alter plant disease dynamics, with implications for food availability. I am particularly interested in understanding how rising temperatures affect the survivability and proliferation of parasite populations.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2020), an estimated 750 million people suffered from the threat of food insecurity in 2019. The severe ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic on food security put as many as an additional 130 million people at potential risk of undernourishment in 2020 (Food and Agriculture Organization 2020). With the global population still on the rise, this could pose an even bigger problem, as demands for food increase in the face of a limited supply.

I plan to focus specifically on trends in pathogens that impact staple crops, such as wheat and rice. Globally, these crops provide human populations with a large percentage of their caloric intake, and thus if changing climates increase pathogen prevalence in these crops it will have particularly significant implications for human health. With a better understanding of how rising temperatures impact plant disease transmission and dynamics, different agricultural techniques can be explored and implemented to provide nutritional food sources capable of withstanding climate change. Primarily, I hope to answer the question of what effects rising temperatures have on the host-parasite interactions of plant pathogens.

I also plan to consider the impact of other climate change-related factors, such as increasing carbon dioxide concentrations. In answering these questions, I will consider how parasite and host performance varies across different geographical regions and climate zones. While I presume some effects of climate change, such as higher carbon dioxide concentrations, may increase the yield of some crops, I expect that overall rising temperatures will negatively impact the yield of staple agricultural crops. I will analyze this relationship by first conducting a systematic review of the existing literature to draw conclusions and identify patterns across various publications.

I will complement this literature review with a meta-analysis of dozens of papers that measure plant pathogen health over a range of temperatures and will use the results to generate original data analyses and visualizations. In the end, I will generate a comprehensive research paper that creatively incorporates my findings from the literature review and the original data analysis.