Viral Pathogen Production in a Wild Grass Host Driven by Host Growth and Soil Nitrogen

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  • Nutrient limitation is a basic ecological constraint that has received little attention in studies on virus production and disease dynamics. Nutrient availability could directly limit the production of viral nucleic acids and proteins, or alternatively limit host growth and thus indirectly limit metabolic pathways necessary for viral replication.
  • In order to compare direct and indirect effects of nutrient limitation on virus production within hosts, we manipulated soil nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) availability in a glasshouse for the wild grass host Bromus hordeaceus and the viral pathogen Barley yellow dwarf virus-PAV.
  • We found that soil N additions increased viral concentrations within host tissues, and the effect was mediated by host growth. Specifically, in statistical models evaluating the roles of host biomass production, leaf N and leaf P, viral production depended most strongly on host biomass, rather than the concentration of either nutrient. Furthermore, at low soil N, larger plants supported greater viral concentrations than smaller ones, whereas at high N, smaller plants supported greater viral concentrations.
  • Our results suggest that enhanced viral productivity under N enrichment is an indirect consequence of nutrient stimulation to host growth rate. Heightened pathogen production in plants has important implications for a world facing increasing rates of nutrient deposition.