Vortex-induced dispersal of a plant pathogen by raindrop impact

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Raindrop impact on infected plants can disperse micron-sized propagules of plant pathogens (e.g., spores of fungi). Little is known about the mechanism of how plant pathogens are liberated and transported due to raindrop impact.We used high-speed photography to observe thousands of dry-dispersed spores of the rust fungus Puccinia triticina being liberated from infected wheat plants following the impact of a single raindrop.We revealed that an air vortex ring was formed during the raindrop impact and carried the dry-dispersed spores away from the surface of the host plant. The maximum height and travel distance of the airborne spores increased with the aid of the air vortex. This unique mechanism of vortex-induced dispersal dynamics was characterized to predict trajectories of spores. Finally, we found that the spores transported by the air vortex can reach beyond the laminar boundary layer of leaves, which would enable the long-distance transport of plant pathogens through the atmosphere.

plant pathogen, dry rust spore, air vortex, swirling trajectory, drop impact