Natália A. Peres was born in Santos, São Paulo, Brazil, and received her B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees in agronomy and plant pathology at the São Paulo State University in Botucatu, São Paulo. Her doctoral work was on the epidemiology and control of postbloom fruit drop of citrus caused by Colletotrichum acutatum. She did a portion of her doctoral research in the laboratory of L. W. Timmer at the Citrus Research and Education Center of the University of Florida. Subsequently, she worked as a post-doctoral fellow at the Instituto Biolόgico in São Paulo on projects involving postbloom fruit drop and citrus black spot in Brazil. In 2004, she was hired as an assistant professor of plant pathology at the Gulf Coast Research and Education Center (GCREC) of the University of Florida to do research and extension on diseases of strawberries and ornamentals. She is currently associate professor of plant pathology at that center.
Peres has excelled in virtually everything she has chosen to do. One of her challenges upon arrival in Florida was to improve the control of strawberry diseases. Strawberries are one of the most valuable crops in Florida. About 9,000 acres were devoted to strawberry production in Florida in 2011, producing about 180 million pounds of strawberries with a farmgate value of nearly $300 million. Florida production represents 15% of the nation’s berries and virtually all of those grown in the winter. Prior to her work in Florida, fungicides were often applied weekly and, in 2006, an average of 30 lb of captan and 17 lb of thiram per acre plus other fungicides were applied, primarily for the control of Anthracnose and Botrytis fruit rots.
The primary basis for this nomination is research published in two papers in Plant Disease in 2012 by Peres and Steve MacKenzie, a post-doctoral fellow in her laboratory. In this work, they evaluated previously existing models for Anthracnose fruit rot (AFR) and Botrytis fruit rot (BFR) on strawberry and other crops and developed workable systems to forecast disease outbreaks of AFR and BFR based primarily on temperature and wetness duration. They later selected the best models to predict the need for fungicide applications for both diseases and tested them for several years under experimental conditions and in preliminary grower trials.
Many models for plant diseases exist in the literature, but few have found acceptance by growers and been effective in controlling diseases and reducing fungicide applications. However, once Peres’ model had proven effective to her satisfaction, she worked with agricultural and biological engineers Willingthon Pavan and Clyde Fraisse of the University of Florida to establish the Strawberry Advisory System (SAS), which is available to growers on the AgroClimate.org website (http://agroclimate.org/tools/strawberry). SAS not only provides forecasts, it sends disease alerts to growers by text messages or e-mails. She continues to work with growers to assist them in the utilization of the forecasts for both diseases. In addition to forecasts, SAS provides suggestions for selection of fungicides under different circumstances. As an example of how well the model has been accepted, she initially convinced a grower to spray according to the model on one acre to compare it with the standard weekly sprays that were being used. Each year, the grower continued to use the model on more and more acreage. During the last season, she had to convince the grower to use the standard calendar program on one acre, so that she would be able to make comparisons. On average, the use of the model has reduced the number of fungicide applications by about half, and even more in seasons unfavorable to development of the diseases. This has greatly reduced grower costs as well as environmental and health concerns.
Following the successful evaluation of the program in Florida, she obtained a substantial SCRI grant to expand the use of SAS to other states. Peres is now working with colleagues to expand the use of SAS to other strawberry areas. SAS is now proving as useful in summer strawberry production in other states as it is for winter production in Florida. Recently, many isolates of Botrytis cinerea have developed resistance to fungicides. Peres is working with other investigators to develop rapid assays to detect resistance in fungal populations. This will assist growers in the selection of the most appropriate fungicides. The use of SAS will result in fewer fungicide applications and less selection pressure on new products. It will also help growers to more effectively schedule rotation of products to reduce resistance development.
Peres has contributed significantly to the knowledge of many other strawberry diseases. She has determined the host range of isolates of C. acutatum from strawberry and other crops and the survival of this pathogen on host surfaces. She has been working with David Gadoury of Cornell on ontogenic resistance of strawberry cultivars to powdery mildew. In her program, cultivars and breeding lines are evaluated routinely for susceptibility to strawberry diseases, and new fungicides and biocontrol products are assessed for efficacy.
Peres has an active and wide-ranging program and collaborates on numerous projects at the request of other investigators. Her program includes responsibility for citrus and she continues her work on black spot and postbloom fruit drop. In her ornamental program, she has made significant contributions to control measures for diseases of caladiums, gerberas, and roses. She supervises the disease clinic at GCREC and, as a result, has reported new diseases of several hosts. Her laboratory is constantly filled with students, visiting scientists, and trainees from many countries. Peres has cooperative projects with investigators in Brazil, Korea, Mozambique, and Australia and has had invitations to give presentations in many countries. She has served APS as associate and senior editor of Plant Disease, associate editor of the APSnet Education Center, and chair of the Pathogen Resistance Committee.
Natália Peres is a creative, innovative, and cooperative scientist and has overcome many challenges in her career to achieve her goals. She has contributed much to the understanding of diseases of fruit crops and is highly deserving of this award.