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Source: Karen Garrett, 785-532-1370,

Monday, Feb. 16, 2009


MANHATTAN -- Agriculture in the United States is critical to global food security, but new pests and diseases threaten production. Ten such pests are estimated to enter the country every year, and the federal government spends more than $1 billion annually on research, emergency response and education related to crop pests.

That's why Kansas State University scientists have used an analysis of connectivity to evaluate the vulnerability of U.S. agriculture to the spread of pests and diseases in four major crops: maize, soybean, wheat and cotton. Their work was published in the February issue of the journal BioScience and is available at:

The K-State team included: Margaret Margosian, U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Science Fellow in the department of geography; Karen Garrett, associate professor of plant pathology; Shawn Hutchinson, associate professor of geography; and Kimberly With, associate professor of biology.

The analysis of connectivity was based on county-level information about acreage of each of the four crops. The researchers used a network connecting counties to model the potential spread of pests and diseases.

Spread was modeled as more likely in areas with abundant acreage of the particular crop. Species of pests and pathogens differ in their ability to spread where the crop species they use is rare, so a range of requirements for crop availability was included in the analysis.

This type of analysis can be used to reveal areas likely to be strongly linked for pest or pathogen movement. For example, linkages are strong for soybean and maize acreage in the central United States because a pest or pathogen introduced to one area could spread relatively easily to other areas. Major U.S. wheat and cotton regions are less connected at the national scale but may be strongly connected locally.

According to the researchers, evaluation of these patterns can inform debate about U.S. policies that provide subsidies for a small number of agricultural species. Connectivity at a national scale and at smaller scales also can be useful in decision-making for management of invasive pathogens and pests. Where cropping areas are less connected, programs for pest or pathogen eradication are more likely to be successful.

The project was supported by the U. S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the National Science Foundation, the Kansas Agricultural Experiment Station and K-State.

More information on the researchers and their labs is available at: