The influence of plant spacing on density-dependent versus frequency-dependent spore transmission of the anther smut Microbotryum violaceum
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The anther smut fungus Microbotryum violaceum is a pollinator-transmitted plant disease. As for other vector-borne diseases, frequency-dependent transmission patterns are predicted, in contrast to the density-dependent transmission of passively spread diseases. Frequency dependence will, however, only arise if vectors compensate for varying plant spacings. To test this assumption, we set up experimental populations of the host plant, Silene latifolia, with varying disease density (number of diseased plants per plot) and frequency (proportion of plants diseased), and three different plant spacings. We measured spore deposition on healthy flowers in these plots on two dates. Spore deposition decreased considerably from the first to the second census, perhaps related to the concomitant decrease in inflorescence sizes of diseased plants. At our first census, spore deposition rates varied with disease frequency, and the effect of frequency depended on plant spacing. While spore deposition was positively frequency dependent at the 1.5-m inter-plant spacing, no effect of disease frequency was found at a spacings of 0.5 m or 3 m. Nor was there an effect of disease density on spore deposition at the first census. At the later census, on the other hand, spore deposition increased almost significantly with increasing disease density (P = 0.08). This difference in deposition pattern together with a significant decrease in spore receipt indicates changes in pollinator spectrum and/or activity. The correlation of spore numbers among flowers within plants, an indication for intra-plant moves by vectors, was significant at 0.5 m and 1.5 m but not at 3 m. Floral traits and sex of individual plants influenced the number of spores they received. On the first census date, spore deposition increased with increasing inflorescence size in female but not in male plants. On the second census date, neither sex nor number of open flowers had an effect on spore receipt. None of the experimental plants became infected, however, probably because of the unusually hot and dry weather.
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