Plant neighbours can make or break the disease transmission chain of a fungal root pathogen

Eline Ampt (Corresponding author), Jasper van Ruijven, Mark Zwart, J.M. Raaijmakers, Aad J Termorshuizen, Liesje Mommer

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)
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Biodiversity can reduce or increase disease transmission. These divergent effects suggest that community composition rather than diversity per se determines disease transmission. In natural plant communities, little is known about the functional roles of neighbouring plant species in belowground disease transmission.
Here, we experimentally investigated disease transmission of a fungal root pathogen (Rhizoctonia solani) in two focal plant species in combinations with four neighbour species of two ages. We developed stochastic models to test the relative importance of two transmission-modifying mechanisms: (1) infected hosts serve as nutrient supply to increase hyphal growth, so that successful disease transmission is self-reinforcing; and (2) plant resistance increases during plant development.
Neighbouring plants either reduced or increased disease transmission in the focal plants. These effects depended on neighbour age, but could not be explained by a simple dichotomy between hosts and nonhost neighbours. Model selection revealed that both transmission-modifying mechanisms are relevant and that focal host–neighbour interactions changed which mechanisms steered disease transmission rate.
Our work shows that neighbour-induced shifts in the importance of these mechanisms across root networks either make or break disease transmission chains. Understanding how diversity affects disease transmission thus requires integrating interactions between focal and neighbour species and their pathogens.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1303-1316
JournalNew Phytologist
Issue number3
Early online date2021
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • national
  • Plan_S-Compliant-OA

Research theme

  • Biodiversity


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