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Plant Pathogen Survival in the Desert (August 23, 2017)
As the seemingly endless days of summer heat in the desert persist, we can seek refuge in air-conditioned vehicles or buildings. Also, we can obtain food from any number of sources at any time. Not so for plant pathogens, which must survive both high temperatures and lack of food by employing other tactics. A few plant pathogens can thrive at temperatures common in the desert during the summer and cause disease on plants growing at that time; however, most others cannot function at temperatures much above 90°F. To survive inhospitable temperatures or lack of a host on which to feed, fungal pathogens often produce thick-walled durable spores or other structures that allow these organisms to survive hostile environments in a dormant state. Examples of such structures are the visible dark-colored sclerotia produced by the lettuce Sclerotinia pathogens. Much smaller sclerotia and thick-walled spores facilitate long-term survival of the soil-borne pathogens Rhizoctonia and Fusarium, respectively. Most bacterial plant pathogens do not have recognized survival structures, but can subsist for some time in a reduced metabolic state on, in, or near living or dead plant tissue. Plant pathogenic viuses also cannot make resistant structures, so they survive in vectors or living plants, including weeds or cultivated crops that do not express disease symptoms, but serve as sources of virus to visiting insect vectors. Finally, nematode survival stages can include eggs and certain larval forms. Many of the cultural disease management methods used are effective because they disrupt the normal survival capacity of these plant pathogens.

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