Continua of specificity and virulence in plant host-pathogen interactions: Causes and consequences

Luke G. Barrett, Joel M. Kniskern, Natacha Bodenhausen, Wen Zhang, Joy Bergelson

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Ecological, evolutionary and molecular models of interactions between plant hosts and microbial pathogens are largely based around a concept of tightly coupled interactions between species pairs. However, highly pathogenic and obligate associations between host and pathogen species represent only a fraction of the diversity encountered in natural and managed systems. Instead, many pathogens can infect a wide range of hosts, and most hosts are exposed to more than one pathogen species, often simultaneously. Furthermore, outcomes of pathogen infection vary widely because host plants vary in resistance and tolerance to infection, while pathogens are also variable in their ability to grow on or within hosts. Environmental heterogeneity further increases the potential for variation in plant host-pathogen interactions by influencing the degree and fitness consequences of infection. Here, we describe these continua of specificity and virulence inherent within plant host-pathogen interactions. Using this framework, we describe and contrast the genetic and environmental mechanisms that underlie this variation, outline consequences for epidemiology and community structure, explore likely ecological and evolutionary drivers, and highlight several key areas for future research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)513-529
Number of pages17
JournalNew Phytologist
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 2009


  • Coevolution
  • Community
  • Disease
  • Epidemiology
  • Evolution
  • Host range
  • Life history
  • Parasite

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Plant Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Continua of specificity and virulence in plant host-pathogen interactions: Causes and consequences'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this