In recent years, severe wheat stem rust epidemics hit Ethiopia, sub-Saharan Africa’s largest wheat-producing country. These were caused by race TKTTF (Digalu race) of the pathogen Puccinia graminis f. sp. tritici, which, in Ethiopia, was first detected at the beginning of August 2012. We use the incursion of this new pathogen race as a case study to determine likely airborne origins of fungal spores on regional and continental scales by means of a Lagrangian particle dispersion model (LPDM). Two different techniques, LPDM simulations forward and backward in time, are compared. The effects of release altitudes in time-backward simulations and P. graminis f. sp. tritici urediniospore viability functions in time-forward simulations are analyzed. Results suggest Yemen as the most likely origin but, also, point to other possible sources in the Middle East and the East African Rift Valley. This is plausible in light of available field surveys and phylogenetic data on TKTTF isolates from Ethiopia and other countries. Independent of the case involving TKTTF, we assess long-term dispersal trends (>10 years) to obtain quantitative estimates of the risk of exotic P. graminis f. sp. tritici spore transport (of any race) into Ethiopia for different ‘what-if’ scenarios of disease outbreaks in potential source countries in different months of the wheat season.
Large-Scale Atmospheric Dispersal Simulations Identify Likely Airborne Incursion Routes of Wheat Stem Rust Into Ethiopia