European Journal of Plant Pathology

, Volume 138, Issue 3, pp 487–497 | Cite as

The population dynamics of disease on short and long time-scales



Observational evidence is scarce concerning the distribution of plant pathogen population sizes or densities as a function of time-scale or spatial scale. For wild pathosystems we can only get indirect evidence from evolutionary patterns and the consequences of biological invasions. We have little or no evidence bearing on extermination of hosts by pathogens, or successful escape of a host from a pathogen. Evidence over the last couple of centuries from crops suggest that the abundance of particular pathogens in the spectrum affecting a given host can vary hugely on decadal time-scales. However, this may be an artefact of domestication and intensive cultivation. Host-pathogen dynamics can be formulated mathematically fairly easily–for example as SIR-type differential equation or difference equation models, and this has been the (successful) focus of recent work in crops. “Long-term” is then discussed in terms of the time taken to relax from a perturbation to the asymptotic state. However, both host and pathogen dynamics are driven by environmental factors as well as their mutual interactions, and both host and pathogen co-evolve, and evolve in response to external factors. We have virtually no information about the importance and natural role of higher trophic levels (hyperpathogens) and competitors, but they could also induce long-scale fluctuations in the abundance of pathogens on particular hosts. In wild pathosystems the host distribution cannot be modelled as either a uniform density or even a uniform distribution of fields (which could then be treated as individuals). Patterns of short-term density-dependence and the detail of host distribution are therefore critical to long-term dynamics. Host density distributions are not usually scale-free, but are rarely uniform or clearly structured on a single scale. In a (multiply structured) metapopulation with co-evolution and external disturbances it could well be the case that the time required to attain equilibrium (if it exists) based on conditions stable over a specified time-scale is longer than that time-scale. Alternatively, local equilibria may be reached fairly rapidly following perturbations but the meta-population equilibrium be attained very slowly. In either case, meta-stability on various time-scales is a more relevant than equilibrium concepts in explaining observed patterns.


Co-evolution Metapopulation Population dynamics Spatial distribution 


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© KNPV 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Agriculture, Policy and DevelopmentUniversity of ReadingReadingUK

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