Experimental evidence on the capacity of pathogen populations to quantitatively adapt to their hosts and on the life traits that are involved is lacking at this time. In this article, we identified a situation in which a leaf rust pathotype (P1) was found at a high frequency on a widely grown cultivar (Soissons) and we tested the hypothesis that P1 was more aggressive on Soissons than other virulent pathotypes (P2 and P3). Several components of the pathogen life cycle were measured on adult wheat plants in two different experiments under greenhouse conditions: latent period, spore production per lesion and per unit of sporulating tissue, uredinium size, and lesion life span. Regardless of the component, pathotype P1 was repeatedly found to be more aggressive than at least one of the other two pathotypes, with differences of 5 to 51%. Breaking down spore production per lesion into uredinium size and spore production per square millimeter of sporulating tissue showed that the three pathotypes presented different aggressiveness profiles, suggesting different development constraints for the pathogen, either for its growth capacity into host tissues or its ability to exploit the host resources for spore production. Although leaf rust pathotypes present a clonal structure, quantitative differences were found for aggressiveness traits within a pathotype.
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