Networks in plant epidemiology: from genes to landscapes, countries, and continents

Phytopathology. 2011 Apr;101(4):392-403. doi: 10.1094/PHYTO-07-10-0192.


There is increasing use of networks in ecology and epidemiology, but still relatively little application in phytopathology. Networks are sets of elements (nodes) connected in various ways by links (edges). Network analysis aims to understand system dynamics and outcomes in relation to network characteristics. Many existing natural, social, and technological networks have been shown to have small-world (local connectivity with short-cuts) and scale-free (presence of super-connected nodes) properties. In this review, we discuss how network concepts can be applied in plant pathology from the molecular to the landscape and global level. Wherever disease spread occurs not just because of passive/natural dispersion but also due to artificial movements, it makes sense to superimpose realistic models of the trade in plants on spatially explicit models of epidemic development. We provide an example of an emerging pathosystem (Phytophthora ramorum) where a theoretical network approach has proven particularly fruitful in analyzing the spread of disease in the UK plant trade. These studies can help in assessing the future threat posed by similar emerging pathogens. Networks have much potential in plant epidemiology and should become part of the standard curriculum.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture
  • Commerce
  • Computer Simulation
  • Demography
  • Disease Transmission, Infectious / statistics & numerical data
  • Epidemics / statistics & numerical data
  • Gene Regulatory Networks
  • Genes, Plant
  • Human Activities
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological*
  • Pathology, Molecular / methods
  • Phytophthora / pathogenicity
  • Plant Diseases / etiology*
  • Plant Diseases / statistics & numerical data
  • Plants / parasitology