A pathogen's spatial range is not constrained by geographical features in the flax rust pathosystem

Keenan Duggal, Ian Miller, Juliana Jiranek, Jessica Metcalf

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Climate change and shifting environmental conditions can allow pathogens to spread into previously unburdened areas. For plant pathogens, this dynamic has the potential to disrupt natural ecosystem equilibria and human agriculture, making predicting plant pathogen range shifts increasingly important. Although such predictions will hinge on an accurate understanding of the determinants of pathogen range—namely the environmental, geographical, and host range characteristics that modulate local pathogen habitation—few studies to date have probed these in natural plant populations. Here, we characterize range determinants for the model system of Lewis flax (Linum lewisii) and its pathogen, flax rust (Melampsora lini), in the Rocky Mountains. Transect surveys were performed to assess three relationships: (i) the effect of geographical features—elevation, slope aspect, slope grade, and land cover—on flax presence and density, (ii) the effect of geographical features on flax rust presence and prevalence, and (iii) the effects of flax's local population density and metapopulation structure on flax rust presence and prevalence. We found that flax population density, but not host metapopulation structure, influences the distribution of flax rust. Additionally, we showed that, while the distribution of flax was broadly constrained to a relatively narrow range of geographical and resulting environmental features, flax rust was evenly distributed across the full range of settings measured. These results indicate that a warming environment, which is expected to modulate such features, may restrict the optimal range of the plant more than that of its pathogen. Importantly, our results also suggest that even if flax shifts its spatial range to escape increasing climatic pressures, flax rust will not face any significant barriers to track this movement.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere10577
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


  • Lewis flax
  • climate change
  • flax rust
  • plant pathogens
  • range shifts
  • spatial range


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