Plant biodiversity under threat from general viruses

May 12, 2014 by Rogini Moorthi
The researchers also found that when indigenous viruses infected native plants they were not adapted to, they caused just as much damage as the introduced generalist viruses. Credit: Clare Snow

(Phys.org) —Introduced generalist plant viruses from other hosts that encounter native plant species for the first time pose a greater threat to plant biodiversity in south-west Australia than introduced specialist viruses, a recent study found.

The researchers compared impacts of six introduced generalist, seven introduced specialist and four Australian indigenous viruses on the appearance and growth of native in eight families from the South West Australian Floristic region (SWAFR).

These viruses were inoculated to native plants using infective sap, but also by aphids or grafting.

Any symptoms that developed in the inoculated plants were recorded over six weeks.

UWA School of Plant Biology Professor Roger Jones says WA had no agriculture before European colonisation commenced in 1829.

He says that before then, indigenous viruses had co-evolved within the native vegetation, and were highly adapted to the plant communities they evolved in.

"The beginning of agriculture, however, saw importation of cultivated plants and weeds, which introduced new viruses along with them," he says.

"Where there are introduced crops, pastures, weeds or trees growing next to , viruses can move in both directions across the interface between the two.

"So, viruses move from cultivated plants to invade communities growing next to them, and from natural vegetation to cultivated plants."

Prof Jones says introduced generalist viruses have the ability to invade plant species within a wide range of plant families, so they are much more likely to infect the new hosts they encounter than the specialist viruses, which are adapted to survive in only few plant species.

"The specialist viruses do little damage to the hosts that they infect naturally and often spread to the next generation through seed," he says.

"Generalist viruses are adapted to switch from one host to another, and are often very damaging to new hosts they are not well adapted to.

"When six introduced generalist viruses were inoculated to 14 from seven different families, 13 species became infected."

The researchers also found that when indigenous viruses infected native plants they were not adapted to, they caused just as much damage as the introduced generalist viruses.

Prof Jones says this is because some of the indigenous viruses used in the study were from the Kimberley (not south-west Australia) and were encountering these hosts for the first time.

While there is unique native flora in south-west Australia, Prof Jones says presently the likely endangerment of native species caused by spread of introduced has received little attention.

Explore further: Whitefly spreads emerging plant viruses

More information: "Effects of introduced and indigenous viruses on native plants: exploring their disease causing potential at the agro-ecological interface." Vincent SJ, Coutts BA, Jones RA. PLoS One. 2014 Mar 12;9(3):e91224. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0091224. eCollection 2014.

Related Stories

Whitefly spreads emerging plant viruses

January 18, 2007

A tiny whitefly is responsible for spreading a group of plant viruses that cause devastating disease on food, fiber, and ornamental crops, say plant pathologists with The American Phytopathological Society (APS).

The genetic secrets to jumping the species barrier

February 11, 2010

Scientists have pinpointed specific mutations that allow a common plant virus to infect new species, according to research published in the March issue of the Journal of General Virology. Understanding the genetics of the ...

Recommended for you

Genomes uncover life's early history

August 24, 2015

A University of Manchester scientist is part of a team which has carried out one of the biggest ever analyses of genomes on life of all forms.

Rare nautilus sighted for the first time in three decades

August 25, 2015

In early August, biologist Peter Ward returned from the South Pacific with news that he encountered an old friend, one he hadn't seen in over three decades. The University of Washington professor had seen what he considers ...

Why a mutant rice called Big Grain1 yields such big grains

August 24, 2015

(Phys.org)—Rice is one of the most important staple crops grown by humans—very possibly the most important in history. With 4.3 billion inhabitants, Asia is home to 60 percent of the world's population, so it's unsurprising ...

Study shows female frogs susceptible to 'decoy effect'

August 28, 2015

(Phys.org)—A pair of researchers has found that female túngaras, frogs that live in parts of Mexico and Central and South America, appear to be susceptible to the "decoy effect." In their paper published in the journal ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.