Puccinia graminis Pers. f. sp. tritici Eriks and Henn.; leaf rust (or brown rust), caused by P. recondita Rob. Ex Desm. f. sp. Tritici; and stripe rust (or yellow rust), caused by P. striiformis West. All three rust diseases are fungi which are obligate parasites in nature (that is, they require a living host to survive). They all need free moisture for infection, but they have different optimal environmental conditions for disease development, so they often do not damage wheat production concurrently in the same region (Knott 1989). For example, stem rust tends to require higher temperatures than leaf rust, which requires higher temperatures than stripe rust; hence, stem rust is usually more damaging in the northern Great Plains, leaf rust in the southern Great Plains and the East, and stripe rust in the West. Of the three diseases, stem rust can cause the more devastating epidemics; for example, in 1916, a stem rust epidemic was estimated to have reduced total US wheat production by 38% (Loegering 1967). But leaf rust is more common (Schafer 1987; table 3.1). Because wheat is used primarily as a food grain, losses in total production underestimate the true economic loss when wheat is damaged so severely that it must be sold as a feed grain.
Losses due to rusts can be reduced by cultural practices, removal of an alternative host, chemical control, and genetic protection from the pathogens (also called host-plant resistance) (Knott 1989; Schafer 1987). The goal is to break the life cycle of the pathogen.
After the 1916 stem rust epidemic, a major barberry-eradication program was started in North America (Roelfs 1982). Roelfs suggested four benefits from the success of the program: disease onset was delayed by 10 days, initial inoculum was reduced, the number of pathogen races was reduced, and the pathogenic races of stem rust were stabilized. The reduction in the number of races and their stabilization were due to eliminating the sexual cycle of P. graminis. P. recondita also has alternative hosts, but none is known for P. striiformis (Schafer 1987). Chemical control of rust diseases with fungicides has been successful, but the cost of the fungicides, the economics of US wheat production, and concerns about chemicals in food grains have limited their use in the United States (Rowell 1985). Fungicides are widely used in Europe and the Pacific Northwest to control other wheat diseases.
By far the most common approach to the control of rust diseases in wheat is the use of conventionally bred resistant plants because it costs less than fungicide applications and there are numerous sources of genes for pest-protection (for example, McVey 1990; Cox et al. 1994). The most important aspect of breeding for rust-protection is that not only the genet-