Integrated management approaches to combat plant virus diseases

Virus disease outbreaks constitute a serious threat to global food security, increasingly causing reduced crop yields and spoiling produce quality. They also threaten endangered wild plant populations growing in natural ecosystems, and have an estimated global economic impact of more than $30 billion annually.

The investigations, recently published in Annual Review of Virology, provide the first comprehensive global review of current plant virus diseases, their transmission pathways, factors influencing virus disease outbreaks, beneficial new and emerging technologies, and the most effective virus disease management options.

Adjunct Professor Roger Jones said that agricultural globalization and climate change-driven influences are having a major impact aggravating the spread of plant viral diseases.

“Virus diseases and their vectors are expanding their bioclimatic envelopes, crossing national borders into new geographic regions and triggering virus disease epidemics which lead to devastating crop losses,” Professor Jones said.

“The greatest impacts are being felt in food-insecure tropical and subtropical regions where the majority of people depend on agriculture for their livelihoods.”

Professor Jones said that there is a remarkable diversity of plant viruses and their vectors, which makes it impossible to implement ‘one-size-fits-all’ control solutions. However, robust solutions that are economically, environmentally and socially sustainable can be delivered through appropriate sustainable integrated virus disease management approaches.

“By combining diverse types of control measures differing in the ways they operate and tailoring them so they target each individual pathosystem and situation effectively, we can better mitigate losses from plant virus disease epidemics,” Professor Jones said.

“Such approaches need to be intelligent and adaptable, and the people devising them need to make locally appropriate choices and take any local ecosystem impairment into account.”

Although on the one hand the current situation is cause for grave concern especially in food insecure regions of the world, on the other hand beneficial new and emerging technologies hold great promise for the future toward more effective detection and management of plant viral diseases.

“As an example, hyperspectral, multispectral, thermal, and other types of optical sensors are becoming increasingly effective at distinguishing virus-diseased from healthy plants, establishing virus and virus vector incidence, and assisting the prediction of yield losses caused by virus disease,” Prof Jones said.

“Combining these tools with precision agriculture so that management measures can target where they will have greatest effect holds exciting prospects for effective pre-emptive virus disease control in the future.”

“However, in order to optimise these technological innovations, we must integrate them with knowledge of how plant virus epidemics develop and the climatic, cultural and other drivers involved, and adapt them to each specific cropping situation,” he added.

This investigation was funded by UWA, WSU, USAID and the USDA, and co-authored by Adjunct Prof Roger Jones and Dr Rayapati Naidu of Washington State University.

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