The primary research goal is to conduct novel studies which advance foundational knowledge surrounding pathogen biology and quantitative epidemiology that enable transformational step-changes within plant pathology.
To achieve this goal, activities are conducted within the themes of:
Pathogen Biology and Ecology:
Detailed information on the biology of the pathogen is paramount for assessing the risk of the durability of disease management strategies and tactics. Much of the research conducted within this theme focuses on depicting pathogen population diversity on a genotypic and phenotypic level. Primary research questions revolve around quantifying the inherent risk of disease control failures and providing constant improvements in the durability of disease management. Quantification of allelic and genotypic diversity of a population provides a picture of the risk of change in response to selection pressures imposed by disease management tactics, such as the use of fungicides for fungal diseases. This information is obtained using the latest molecular techniques including genome sequencing to enable genotyping of populations. Monitoring of spatiotemporal patterns of important population level traits such as the frequency of fungicide resistant isolates, mating type, virulence and aggressiveness of isolates, and the presence of genes to overcome host resistance are all pieces of the disease management puzzle.
Our research in this area also aims to improve knowledge surrounding the complex of plant diseases affecting productivity and their relative importance as factors contributing to crop loss. This includes identifying the relative importance of various pathogens associated with emerging disease complexes and using a combination of morphological characteristics and multilocus sequencing approaches to improve our understanding of the phylogenetics of these pathogens and resolutions of their species concepts.
The effects of a plant disease on quality and quantity of vegetable production and impact to growers is required to enable the cost-effectiveness of disease management programs (theme 3) to be calculated and fully realized. This information also provides a foundation for both strategic and tactical disease management decisions. Research within this thematic area is depicting the spatiotemporal attributes of epidemics, quantifying distances and patterns of disease and pathogen spread from inoculum sources, and implications for risk prediction in integrated pest management programs. A feature of this research is the use of new technologies to quantify disease intensity by improving accuracy and precision of phytopathometry methods and defining new paradigms for spatial analysis of epidemics.
In collaboration with growers and industry stakeholders, management strategies with a holistic focus are designed based on pathogen biology and epidemiological knowledge. Pesticide efficacy and associated issues such as residues and off-target impacts are central premises, but other factors must also be considered. For example, manipulating canopy growth using various methods such as plant growth regulators and fertility, use of pathogen-free planting material, canopy and stand management, and control of alternate and alternative hosts are all important factors for consideration and testing where practical.