Phenotypic interactions between tree hosts and invasive forest pathogens in the light of globalization and climate change

Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2016 Dec 5;371(1709):20150455. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2015.0455.


Invasive pathogens can cause considerable damage to forest ecosystems. Lack of coevolution is generally thought to enable invasive pathogens to bypass the defence and/or recognition systems in the host. Although mostly true, this argument fails to predict intermittent outcomes in space and time, underlining the need to include the roles of the environment and the phenotype in host-pathogen interactions when predicting disease impacts. We emphasize the need to consider host-tree imbalances from a phenotypic perspective, considering the lack of coevolutionary and evolutionary history with the pathogen and the environment, respectively. We describe how phenotypic plasticity and plastic responses to environmental shifts may become maladaptive when hosts are faced with novel pathogens. The lack of host-pathogen and environmental coevolution are aligned with two global processes currently driving forest damage: globalization and climate change, respectively. We suggest that globalization and climate change act synergistically, increasing the chances of both genotypic and phenotypic imbalances. Short moves on the same continent are more likely to be in balance than if the move is from another part of the world. We use Gremmeniella abietina outbreaks in Sweden to exemplify how host-pathogen phenotypic interactions can help to predict the impacts of specific invasive and emergent diseases.This article is part of the themed issue 'Tackling emerging fungal threats to animal health, food security and ecosystem resilience'.

Keywords: emergent disease; lack of coevolution; maladaptive phenotype; phenotypic plasticity.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Ascomycota / physiology*
  • Climate Change*
  • Commerce
  • Forests
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions*
  • Internationality*
  • Plant Diseases / microbiology*
  • Sweden
  • Trees / microbiology*

Associated data

  • Dryad/10.5061/dryad.1182k