Assessing long-distance atmospheric transport of soilborne plant pathogens

Hannah Brodsky, Rocío Calderón, Douglas S. Hamilton, Longlei Li, Andrew Miles, Ryan Pavlick, Kaitlin M. Gold, Sharifa G. Crandall, Natalie Mahowald

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Pathogenic fungi are a leading cause of crop disease and primarily spread through microscopic, durable spores adapted differentially for both persistence and dispersal via soil, animals, water, and/or the atmosphere. Computational Earth system models and air pollution models have been used to simulate atmospheric spore transport for aerial-dispersal-adapted (airborne) rust diseases, but the importance of atmospheric spore transport for soil-dispersal-adapted (soilborne) diseases remains unknown. While a few existing simulation studies have focused on intracontinental dispersion, transoceanic and intercontinental atmospheric transport of soilborne spores entrained in agricultural dust aerosols is understudied and may contribute to disease spread. This study adapts the Community Atmosphere Model, the atmospheric component of the Community Earth System Model, to simulate the global transport of the plant pathogenic soilborne fungus Fusarium oxysporum (F. oxy). Our sensitivity study assesses the model’s accuracy in long-distance aerosol transport and the impact of deposition rate on simulated long-distance spore transport in Summer 2020 during a major dust transport event from Northern Sub-Saharan Africa to the Caribbean and southeastern United States (U.S.). We find that decreasing wet and dry deposition rates by an order of magnitude improves representation of long-distance, trans-Atlantic dust transport. Simulations also suggest that a small number of spores can survive trans-Atlantic transport to be deposited in agricultural zones. This number is dependent on source spore parameterization, which we improved through a literature search to yield a global map of F. oxy spore distribution in source agricultural soils. Using this map and aerosol transport modeling, we show how potentially viable spore numbers in the atmosphere decrease with distance traveled and offer a novel danger index for modeled viable spore deposition in agricultural zones. Our work finds that intercontinental transport of viable spores to cropland is greatest between Eurasia, North Africa, and Sub-Saharan Africa, suggesting that future observational studies should concentrate on these regions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104021
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • General Environmental Science
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

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