Introduction

Twenty-five percent of the world's food crops are estimated to be affected by mycotoxins (Charmley et al., 1995). The main factor influencing the geographic distribution of toxigenic fungi and related mycotoxin accumulation is climate. Environmental variation at different geographic locations, particularly temperature, humidity and rainfall, influence the growth, survival, dissemination and incidence of toxin-producing organisms and toxin accumulation in crops (Doohan et al., 2003). However, understanding the influence of climatic factors on fungal diseases is difficult, as fungal diseases may result from members of a single species or from multiple species in a disease complex. Moreover, the optimal environmental conditions for each fungal species may vary depending on their mode of reproduction and the conditions required for vegetative growth and toxin production, which need not be the same. The main causal agents of toxin accumulation in cereals and grapes belong to species of Aspergillus, Fusarium and Penicillium. Some of these species are strictly asexual while others reproduce both sexually and asexually with varying relative frequency.

The migration of agriculturally important toxigenic fungi through trade may be an important source of inoculum for new plant diseases in Europe and for increasing the genetic diversity of already existing local populations. All of these factors may influence the spread of toxigenic fungi, their growth and the accumulation of their mycotoxin products on crops. A better understanding of the role of the environment and the increased sensitivity of toxin assays has recently added to the endemic problems some emerging ones. In this chapter we consider three important European crops of economic importance that also have high risk of contamination by mycotoxins (Logrieco and Visconti, 2004).

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