Gone with the wind: Revisiting stem rust dispersal between southern Africa and Australia

Botma Visser


Department of Plant Sciences, University of the Free State, South Africa

Marcel Meyer, Robert Park, Christopher Gilligan, Laura Burgin, Matthew Hort, David Hodson, Zacharias Pretorius



Despite being 10,000 km apart, the current study emphasizes the potential vulnerability of Australia to wind-borne Puccinia graminis f. sp. tritici (Pgt) spore introductions from southern Africa. Of four Pgt introductions into Australia since 1925, at least two (races 326-1,2,3,5,6 and 194-1,2,3,5,6) are thought to have originated from southern Africa. Microsatellite analysis of 29 Australian and South African Pgt races confirmed close genetic relationships between the majority of races in these two geographically separated populations, thus supporting previously reported phenotypic similarities. Using Lagrangian Particle Dispersion Model simulations with finely-resolved global meteorological data over a 14-year period and a three-day urediniospore survival time, the study showed that long distance dispersal of Pgt from southern Africa to Australia is possible, albeit rare. Transmission events occurred most frequently from central South Africa, but were also possible from southern South Africa and Zimbabwe; while none occurred from a representative source-location in Tanzania. Direct dispersal incursions into both the western and eastern Australian wheat belts were feasible. Together, the genetic and simulation data strongly support the hypothesis that earlier introductions of Pgt into Australia occurred through long-distance wind-dispersal across the Indian Ocean. The study thus acts as a warning of possible future Pgt dispersal events to Australia which could include members of the Ug99 race group. This emphasizes the continued need for Pgt surveillance on both continents.