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September 2020​

Plant Health in a Changing Climate

Plants get sick too! Just like humans, plants can be infected by viruses. Fungi, bacteria, nematodes, and other microbes can also cause diseases of plants in the garden, the field, and in the forest. Beyond pathogens, insects may feed on plants, reducing crop yields and weakening vigor. Insects also reduce plant health by spreading diseases ​from one plant to another. Climate change presents particular challenges for plant health. Today, due to changes in climate, we find plant pathogens and insects in new locations of the world and changing environmental conditions are leading to changes in how plant diseases and insect pests spread and behave. But climate change also has direct impacts on plant health since heat, drought, and flooding can influence plant productivity and survival. The food we eat and the natural environments we enjoy are under threat.

But plant scientists are working hard to mitigate the impacts of climate change on plant health. Plant pathologists are experts in pathogen biology, plant disease management, and minimizing the spread of plant diseases through global trade. Entomologists study insect pests of plants, tracking distribution, studying reproductive strategies, and developing effective control measures. In these efforts, the development of mathematical models helps scientists project where plant diseases or insect pests are likely to be a problem, and help farmers, forest managers, and homeowners make sound, environmentally-friendly management choices. Wild plant species that are related to the crops we eat are important sources of genes for sustainably improving plant health and a global network of genebanks that capture the biodiversity of wild plant species are critical to this ongoing research. And plant pathologists are exploring new approaches to promoting plant health through the use of native soil microbes that can help plants fend off diseases and insect pests or adapt to heat and drought. Together plant scientists are working hard to ensure food security in the face of a changing global climate.

Want to help? In the garden, practice science-based sustainability strategies from your land-grant institutions and local Extension offices. Tell your neighbors why you care about plant health and how it impacts all of us, our food, and our environment. And let your politicians know that you support public funding of plant science research through agencies like the USDA and the National Science Foundation. Together we can stop climate change, together we can protect our plants and save the planet.

Plant Health Is Your Health!

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