Wheat rusts status and population structure across Pakistan during wheat growing seasons 2015-16 and 2016-17
Considering the importance of wheat rust diseases in Pakistan and the recent identification of yellow rust pathogen (Puccinia striiformis f. sp. tritici) centre of diversity in Pakistan, the present study was designed to assess the status of three wheat rusts across the country during 2015-16 and 2016-17 and analyze the population structure of P. striiformis f. sp. tritici . A total of 451 fields (from 68 districts) were surveyed during 2016 and 480 fields (from 69 districts) during 2017. A high yellow rust pressure was present during 2016 throughout Pakistan, while it was predominant only in the Northern half during 2017. Leaf rust was present in the central part of the country, while stem rust was only found in the south. In Sindh province (located in the south), yellow rust was reported unexpectedly with high severity (>60%) on varieties like Kiran and Galaxy during both the years. A set of 513 samples of P. striiformis were genotyped with microsatellite markers to assess the population diversity and spatial structure. and infer on the cause of epidemics in the Sindh province. Population genetics analyses confirmed a recombinant population structure across all locations except the Sindh province, where relatively lower diversity and lack of recombination signature was revealed. At least five genetic groups were identified in the overall population, which were found across all locations, except Sindh province where one of the genetic groups was predominant. The P. striiformis population from Sindh province with low diversity that caused unexpected epidemics in a relatively warmer region needs to be further investigated for specific adaptation traits. Our results confirmed the high diversity across Pakistan, which lies in the Himalayan centre of diversity of the pathogen. This high diversity was present in locations without the presence of alternate host (Berberis spp.) and could potentially be associated with regular migrants from the Berberis zone into the whole country.