May 12 (UPI) -- As rising greenhouse gas emissions yield higher and higher temperatures around the globe, new research suggests plant pathogens are likely to grow faster and do more crop damage.
Australian researchers analyzed soil samples from 235 collection sites, comprising a variety of ecosystems on several continents. The data revealed a link between rising temperatures and the prevalence of fungi species most likely to damage crops.
Scientists published the results of their analysis this week in the journal Nature Climate Change.
"Soil-borne plant pathogens already cause hundreds of billions of dollars in crop losses each year," lead researcher Brajesh Singh, professor of microbial ecology at Western Sydney University, said in a news release. "Our study suggests that common plant pathogens such as Fusarium and Alternaria species will become more prevalent under projected global warming scenarios, which will add to the challenges of maintaining world food production alongside other climate change-driven crises and a burgeoning human population."
According to the new research, the threats won't necessarily originate on farms.
Because of soil microbe spillover between natural areas and the croplands surrounding them, the study notes that warming-induced increases in the abundance of plant pathogens will increase the risk of their spread to adjacent croplands.
Authors of the new study suggest modern DNA sequencing techniques can be tweaked to track the effects of rising temperatures on plant pathogens all over the world. Models supplied with data from similar soil sampling surveys could be used to identify regions at particular risk of food security problems.
"Combining multiple layers of data offers a very powerful means for pinpointing priority regions," said Singh.
"Since most soil-borne plant pathogenic fungi are difficult to control with chemicals, we can now focus our adaptation and resilience efforts more precisely by targeting the most at-risk regions," Singh added. "We can advocate for strategies that promote plant and human health, build healthy soils and use non-chemical methods to win the battle between crops and pathogenic fungi."