1INRA, UR0407 Pathologie Végétale, 84143 Montfavet cedex, France
2Dept. Plant Sciences and Plant Pathology, Montana State University, Bozeman, MT 59717-3150, USA
3International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), 5466 Aleppo, Syria
4Dept. of Atmospheric Sciences, IAG/USP/Brazil, Rua do Matão1226, 05508090, São Paulo, SP, Brazil
5Elanora Heights, 2101, Sydney, Australia
Abstract. In light of various features of the biology of the rust fungi and of the epidemiology of the plant diseases they cause that illustrate the important role of rainfall in their life history, we have characterized the ice nucleation activity (INA) of the aerially disseminated spores (urediospores) of this group of fungi. Urediospores of this obligate plant parasite were collected from natural infections from 7 species of weeds in France, from coffee in Brazil and from field and greenhouse-grown wheat in France, the USA, Turkey and Syria. Immersion freezing was used to determine freezing onset temperatures and the abundance of ice nuclei in suspensions of washed spores. Microbiological analyses of spores and subsequent tests of the ice nucleation activity of the bacteria associated with spores were deployed to quantify the contribution of bacteria to the ice nucleation activity of the spores. All samples of spores were ice nucleation active having freezing onset temperatures as warm as −4 °C. Spores in most of the samples carried cells of ice nucleation-active strains of the bacterium Pseudomonas syringae (at rates of less than 1 bacterial cell per 100 urediospores), but bacterial INA accounted for only a small fraction of the INA observed in spore suspensions. Changes in the INA of spore suspensions after treatment with lysozyme suggest that the INA of urediospores involves a polysaccharide. Based on data from the literature, we have estimated the concentrations of urediospores in air at cloud height and in rainfall. These quantities are very similar to those reported for other biological ice nucleators in these same substrates. We suggest that air sampling techniques have ignored the spatial and temporal variability of atmospheric concentrations that occur under conditions propitious for precipitation that could increase their local abundance intermittently. Nevertheless, we propose that the relative low abundance of warm-temperature biological ice nucleators in the atmosphere corresponds to optimal conditions for the processes of evolution to positively select for INA.