Wheat virus crosses over, harms native grasses

Wheat virus crosses over, harms native grasses.
New research shows, however, that a common wheat virus can spread and harm perennial native grasses.
In the current issue of the Journal of Ecology, researchers from Michigan State University, University of Kansas and University of Virginia show that farmers and scientists need to think about how best to protect native plants from diseases emanating from crops.
"Crop fields were once considered tiny islands in a sea of wild vegetation, so farmers and scientists focused on protecting crops from wild pathogens," said Carolyn Malmstrom, MSU plant biologist and co-lead author of the study.
"Now, around the world, the situation has reversed, and diseases from agricultural fields affect not only crops, but also substantially harm native plants, such as switchgrass."
"Crops have been bred for yield, sometimes at the cost of plant defense.
If they are susceptible, fast-growing crops can serve as highly competent hosts that amplify viruses within a region," Malmstrom said.
While the study focused on merely one virus, it shows that science needs to catch up in understanding how crops influence native plants and to build more knowledge of virus ecology in general.
"There are many mysteries surrounding how crop viruses affect natural ecosystems," Malmstrom said.
"It’s important that we build a base of research in this area.

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