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Apple Disease Forecasting Models: When Climate Changes the Rules

With a changing global climate, plant pathologists must understand the impact aberrant weather events may have on the development of plant diseases. Fungal plant infections are largely dependent on temperature and precipitation, climate parameters that are predicted to change more in this century. Venturia inaequalis causes apple scab, one of the most destructive apple diseases of temperate growing regions. Temperature and precipitation drive apple scab infections and forecast models, which guide growers in efficient, effective fungicide applications. In some recent years in the Northeast, these models have failed to accurately predict when ascospores of this fungus are available to cause primary infections, prompting more fungicide intensive management. Identifying cause(s) of model failures will restore confidence in them, enabling growers to reduce fungicide use. As technology becomes an increasingly important component of on farm decision-making, so does educating new farmers and agricultural students in the benefits of Integrated Pest Management and challenges associated with models early on in their college educational experience. This research attempts to identify reasons for ascospore maturity model failures, determine to what degree critical ascospore maturity parameters have changed and create a tool that educators may use to engage undergraduate students in the complexities of Integrated Pest Management research and modern farming. It will more specifically do the following: 1) Dry periods will be analyzed to determine if frequency and duration are increasing, causing the fungus to mature over a longer period of time than models currently estimate. 2) Degree-days during fall and winter will be examined to estimate what effect a warming climate may have on ascospore and tree development, and ultimately apple scab occurrence. The research will use lab and field observations to track the development of V. inaequalis ascospores, the source of primary apple scab infections. These observations will be compared to infection events and spore maturation forecasts from models currently used by apple growers in the Northeast. 3) A case study developed for publication in American Phytopathological Societies’ Plant Health Instructor will provide early career college students with an introduction to forecasting models, Integrated Pest Management and the challenges associated with climate variability.
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