The first world atlas of plant pathogenic fungi has made it possible to identify regions of Asia, America, Africa and Australia with the highest proportion of these microorganisms. The study shows that the prevalence of microbes will increase with global change, which could affect our ability to produce food in the future.
One tablespoon of soil contains millions of microbes, and most of them are beneficial to humans because they regulate the earth's climate, generate soil fertility, and help produce the food we eat. Others, however, are capable of devastating entire regions of crop fields, leading to major economic crises and famine.
“Recent global events have reminded humanity that this vast majority of microbes can have a major impact on our lives. Therefore, it is essential that we know who these micro-organisms are and what functions they perform, so that we can maintain our quality of life in the future.”, Explains Manuel Delgado Baquerizo, leader of the Biodiversity and Ecosystem Functioning Laboratory at the Pablo de Olavide University (UPO).
The researcher has directed a work, published in the journalNature Climate Change, which shows that climate change will increase the proportion of plant pathogenic fungi in soils around the world. Through the first world atlas of pathogens, researchers are able to identify and observe the distribution and evolution of these pathogens.
In this way, it will be possible to better predict which regions of the earth are and will be most vulnerable to microbiological pests in the near future. This identifies areas of Asia, Africa, Australia and America with a large proportion of plant pathogens in their soils. These regions correspond to hot, arid and tropical zones.
“Our pathogen atlas detects the hot spots on earth that contain the highest proportion of plant pathogens in their soils, and warns us that global warming will increase the proportion of these important organisms on a global scale”, Explains Delgado-Baquerizo.
According to the expert, “we have to be prepared to face future crises associated with the increase in plant pathogens, as this could limit our ability to produce food under conditions of global change”.
The study therefore contributes to understanding how climate change will affect food production and livelihoods for large numbers of people around the world.
Put a face on mushrooms
The study not only identifies the most common plant pathogenic fungi in soils around the world, but also suggests that our soils are an important reservoir for these types of pathogens on a global scale.
“Global warming is here and it is here to stay. Therefore, it is essential that we learn to predict how the soil microbes that control our ability to produce food will respond to climate change, especially if we want to feed the world's growing population.”, Highlights Delgado-Baquerizo.
For the scientist, the study shows in field experiments, with DNA sequencing, and in global samplings, that the increase in temperature is positively associated with a greater proportion of plant pathogens in soils around the world.
To conduct this study, the researchers conducted a global soil sample including 235 land locations on six continents and 18 countries, ranging from desert areas to tropical forests. In addition, they used a climate change experiment that was installed and has been maintained for the last decade by the laboratory of Fernando T. Maestre, from the University of Alicante.
Delgado-Baquerizo et al. "The proportion of soil-borne pathogens increases with warming at the global scale."Nature Climate Change. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-020-0759-3