Viral diversity and prevalence gradients in North American Pacific Coast grasslands

Eric W. Seabloom, Elizabeth T. Borer, Charles E. Mitchell, Alison G. Power

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


Host-pathogen interactions may be governed by the number of pathogens coexisting within an individual host (i.e., coinfection) and among different hosts, although most sampling in natural systems focuses on the prevalence of single pathogens and/or single hosts. We measured the prevalence of four barley and cereal yellow dwarf viruses (B/CYDVs) in three grass species at 26 natural grasslands along a 2000-km latitudinal gradient in the western United States and Canada. B/CYDVs are aphid-vectored RNA viruses that cause one of the most prevalent of all plant diseases worldwide. Pathogen prevalence and coinfection were uncorrelated, suggesting that different forces likely drive them. Coinfection, the number of viruses in a single infected host (a diversity), did not differ among host species but increased roughly twofold across our latitudinal transect. This increase in coinfection corresponded with a decline in among-host pathogen turnover (β diversity), suggesting that B/CYDVs in northern populations experience less transmission limitation than in southern populations. In contrast to pathogen diversity, pathogen prevalence was a function of host identity as well as biotic and abiotic environmental conditions. Prevalence declined with precipitation and increased with soil nitrate concentration, an important limiting nutrient for hosts and vectors of B/CYDVs. This work demonstrates the need for further studies of processes governing coinfection, and the utility of applying theory developed to explain diversity in communities of free-living organisms to pathogen systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)721-732
Number of pages12
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2010


  • Alpha diversity
  • Aphid-vectored RNA virus
  • Barley and cereal yellow dwarf virus (B/CYDV)
  • Beta diversity
  • Community ecology
  • Disease ecology
  • Grasslands
  • North America
  • Pacific coast

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