AWC - Funded Research

The population structure of Fusarium pathogens of small grain cereals, their distribution and relationship to mycotoxins

AWC Contribution: $200,000

Principal Investigators:

  1. Dr Dilantha Fernando, Department of Plan Science, University of Manitoba
  2. Dr Xiben Wang, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Morden, Manitoba


Fusarium head blight (FHB) is a fungal disease affecting cereal crops in Canada that reduces productivity and producesmycotoxins in the grain. This fungal disease is caused by a number of Fusarium species. In Canada, Fusariumgraminearum is considered as the most important Fusarium species because of its abundance, its toxin producing abilityand its impact on grain quality and yield. In the last decade, dramatic changes in the proportion of Fusarium species havebeen noted. Recent studies have identified F. poae as a major Fusarium species complex that causes FHB in grain inseveral European and South American countries. In Canada, annual FHB surveys indicate that Fusarium graminearum is the dominant species in wheat, and F. poae is the predominant Fusarium species found in commercial barley and oat fields. F. poae can produce a wide range of type A and B trichothecene mycotoxins as well as several non-trichothecene mycotoxins. A thorough understanding of the population structure and chemotype composition ofFusarium species from multiple crops such as wheat, corn, barley and oats is crucial to understand the fungal complexthat causes FHB. The goal of this project is to improve yield and grain quality in Canada by identifying chemotypes ofFusarium species, its distribution and relationship to mycotoxins, and their impact to the grain industry.


  1. Evaluation of Western Canadian population structure and chemotype dynamics of Fusarium graminearum in cereals (wheat, barley, corn and oats) Dilantha Fernando (principal investigator) and collaborators.
  2. Prevalence, population structure and mycotoxins of Fusarium poae affecting small grain cereals in western Canada-Xiben Wang (principal investigator) and collaborators.

Benefit to producers:

The prairie production of spring wheat, winter wheat and barley has averaged 21.0, 1.3 and 8.0 million tons per year, respectively, over the 5 years from 2012 to 2016 (www5.statcan The farm gate value of this production easily surpasses $10 billion (Cdn) annually. Decisions that can improve crop production and marketability of these grains by as little as 1% will add hundreds of millions of dollars to the prairie economy. In 2014, winter wheat in Manitoba was severely impacted by FHB. It is estimated that the cost to producers was over $10,000,000 due to the reduction in yield and downgrading due to Fusarium damaged kernels (FDK) and deoxynivalenol (DON) accumulation. In the past several years, durum growers in Saskatchewan have suffered significant yield and quality losses due to FHB. This is largely attributed to above average moisture conditions during flowering in the durum growing region of the prairies, poor genetic resistance of durum cultivars and the limited effectiveness of registered fungicides. A better understanding of the factors responsible for the shift in fusarium population and differences in trichothecene chemotype composition will enable the prediction of future population distribution, possibly related to future changes in climate. Fusarium chemotype diversity may be driven by differences in local selective pressures such as fungicide applications, agronomic practices, host specificity, crop sequence, and weather variables within a region. It may also provide opportunities to identify novel fusarium populations and trichothecene chemotypes that may pose new threats to food and feed safety in Canada. Information from this study will be important in developing disease forecast models which enable growers to make economic decisions about FHB disease management strategies.