Conventional wisdom states that genetic variation reduces disease levels in plant populations. Nevertheless, crop species have been subject to a gradual loss of genetic variation through selection for specific traits during breeding, thereby increasing their vulnerability to biotic stresses such as pathogens. We explored how genetic variation in Arabica coffee sites in southwestern Ethiopia was related to the incidence of four major fungal diseases. Sixty sites were selected along a gradient of management intensity, ranging from nearly wild to intensively managed coffee stands. We used genotyping-by-sequencing of pooled leaf samples (pool-GBS) derived from 16 individual coffee shrubs in each of the 60 sites to assess the variation in genetic composition (multivariate: reference allele frequency) and genetic diversity (univariate: mean expected heterozygosity) between sites. We found that genetic composition had a clear spatial pattern and that genetic diversity was higher in less managed sites. The incidence of the four fungal diseases was related to the genetic composition of the coffee stands, but in a specific way for each disease. In contrast, genetic diversity was only related to the within-site variation of coffee berry disease, but not to the mean incidence of any of the four diseases across sites. Given that fungal diseases are major challenges of Arabica coffee in its native range, our findings that genetic composition of coffee sites impacted the major fungal diseases may serve as baseline information to study the molecular basis of disease resistance in coffee. Overall, our study illustrates the need to consider both host genetic composition and genetic diversity when investigating the genetic basis for variation in disease levels.
- Coffea Arabica
- fungal diseases
- genetic composition and genetic diversity
- management gradient
- Southwestern Ethiopia