Because disease resistance is a hallmark signature of pathogen-mediated selection pressure on hosts, studies of resistance structure (the spatial distribution of disease resistance genes among conspecific host populations) can provide valuable insights into the influence of pathogens on host evolution and spatial variation in the magnitude of their effects. To date few studies of wild plant–pathogen interactions have characterized resistance structure by sampling across the host's biogeographic range, and only a handful have paired such investigations with studies of disease levels under natural conditions. I used a greenhouse cross-inoculation experiment to characterize genetic resistance of 16 populations of California dwarf flax (Hesperolinon californicum) to attack by multiple samples of the rust fungus Melampsora lini. I documented a latitudinal cline in resistance structure, manifest across the host's biogeographic range, which mirrored almost identically a cline in infection prevalence documented through field surveys of disease in study populations. These results provide empirical evidence for clinal patterns of antagonistic selection pressure, demonstrate that such patterns can be manifest across broad biogeographic scales, and suggest that rates of disease prevalence in wild plant populations may be tightly linked to the distribution of host resistance genes. Tests for local adaptation of the fungus revealed evidence of the phenomenon (significantly greater infection in sympatric plant–fungal pairings) as well as the potential for substantial bias to be introduced into statistical analyses by spatial patterns of host resistance structure.
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Vol. 61 • No. 8