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Effects of disease on competition in the perennial herb Silene latifolia

Presenters Name: 
Julia Treubert
Co Presenters Name: 
Primary Research Mentor: 
Emme Bruns
Secondary Research Mentor: 
Janis Antonovics
11:00 - 12:15
Time of Presentation: 
2019 - 11:00am to 12:15pm
Newcomb Hall Ballroom
Presentation Type: 
Presentations Academic Category: 
Grant Program Recipient: 
Not a Recipient

Diseases can strongly affect host community and population dynamics by being a source of mortality. However, their impact on host competition has received less attention. Anther smut, a disease caused by the fungal pathogen Microbotryum violaceum, is a floral disease of the perennial plant Silene latifolia that sterilizes the host by transforming the flower’s reproductive anthers into spore producing structures. The disease is unusual in that it prior to flowering, it lives asymptomatically inside of the plant, but does not cause any obvious symptoms until the plant blooms. The goal of this study was to measure how well diseased plants fare competitively against healthy plants in early life stages prior to flowering. I grew healthy and diseased S. latifolia plants in pots with and without a second plant as a competitor and monitored their growth for 4-6 weeks. I found that competition negatively affected the biomass of both healthy and diseased plants. Diseased plants had consistently lower biomass than healthy plants, in the presence and absence of competition. These results indicate that the disease may actually negatively affect the host’s growth throughout its entire lifespan despite it not showing any symptoms until flowering, and thus may affect a diseased host’s competitive ability in early life.