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Fungal Forest Fire


April 21, 2014 – Life just got more interesting.  A fast-spreading wheat rust has scoured farmers’ fields from Africa to Latin America, the Middle East and Europe.  Wheat is the world’s second most important grain crop, after rice.  This modern epidemic began in North America’s wheat belt back in the 1950s, when the fungus that causes wheat rust destroyed 40 percent of the crop.  Since that time it has traveled to other parts of the world.  In response, rust-resistant varieties of wheat were developed.

A new era dawned in 1999, when an outbreak in Uganda was found to be the result of a virulent mutation of the wheat rust fungus.  According to Dr. David Hodson of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Addis Ababa, the mutation causes “large-scale destruction in a very short period of time over very large cultivated areas.”  The speed with which the fungus spreads can be likened to a forest fire, says Hodson.  Its wind-borne spores, which reproduce in the millions, are each capable of starting a new infestation.

Climate change has been found to be part of the mix.  Two forms of the fungus have spread very rapidly, due to their ability to adapt to warmer growing conditions.   Countries previously unaffected by the rust are now experiencing outbreaks that have reached epidemic proportions, especially in several nations in North Africa and South Asia.  Climate change is further expected to shift the range of distribution of other diseases and pests.

The following is a list of fungi, pests and diseases that could be potentially exacerbated by climate change.  It is lifted directly from The Independent.

Asian Soybean Rust affects the soya crop in Brazil, the world’s biggest producer.  There are more than 244 confirmed cases this year.  Industry spending on insecticides and fungicides is expected to reach $11 billion.

Cocoa Pod Borer Disease: Cocoa bean production in Indonesia, the world’s third-largest producer, is likely to dip 2 percent to 410,000 metric tons for 2013-2014, according to the International Cocoa Organization.  The fall is in part due to a tiny, mosquito-sized moth which attacks the plant.

Potato Blight is a fungus-like organism that thrives in damp, humid conditions.  The speed with which blight infection occurs and the devastating impact on the crop make it the biggest threat to the six million tons of potatoes produced in the UK each year.

Coffee Leaf Rust is an orange-colored fungus that has swept through coffee fields from Mexico to Panama.  The epidemic is affecting the livelihoods of more than two million people and causing the loss of 500,000 jobs.

Banana Fungus (TR4): This soil-borne disease is threatening banana crops in North America, Europe, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.  The value of traded bananas worldwide totals $8.9 billion.



With thanks to www.independent.co.uk.






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