Traditionally the study of disease in agricultural systems has focused on identifying simple factors, such as resistance genes and pesticides, that control disease.  In contrast, I am interested in understanding the ecological and evolutionary rules that govern disease emergence, spread and impact and their application to agro-ecosystems.  My PhD research focused on plant life history attributes that affect the acquisition and maintenance of pathogen species diversity and on the role of host-specific pathogens in maintaining plant community diversity.  Currently, my research is focused on applying disease ecology to understand and control the impacts of mite-transmitted cereal viruses.  Control of this class of virus requires an integrated approach as no effective genetic or pesticide controls exist and both vector and virus utilize multiple grass host species.  Using a combination of field and greenhouse studies, we are identifying 1) the relative competency of crop and weed hosts; 2) how plant resistance and disease impact are altered by soil fertility and other abiotic factors; and 3) how viral-infection and nutrient stress alter wheat-weed competitive interactions.  Our aim is to improve disease control by understanding how spread and impact of cereal viruses are altered by management practices of that alter the abundance and composition of weed community and soil resource availability.  

Selected Publications:

Fine, Paul .V.A., Zachariah J. Miller, Italo Mesones, Sebastian Irazuzta, Heidi M. Appel, M. Henry H. Stevens, Ilari Sääksjärvi, Jack C. Schultz, and Phyllis D. Coley.  2006. The growth-defense tradeoff and habitat specialization by plants in Amazonian forests. Ecology 87(7): S150-S162

Zachariah working on rows of plants in a fieldZachariah working on potted plants in a greenhouse

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