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Like many other plant RNA viruses, Wheat streak mosaic virus (WSMV) sequence diversity within and among infected plants is low given the large number of virions produced. This may be explained by considering aspects of plant virus life history. Intracellular replication of RNA viruses is predominately linear, not exponential, which means that the rate at which mutations accumulate also is linear. Bottlenecks during systemic movement further limit diversity. Analysis of mixed infections with two WSMV isolates suggests that about four viral genomes participate in systemic invasion of each tiller. Low effective population size increases the role of stochastic processes on dynamics of plant virus population genetics and evolution. Despite low pair-wise diversity among isolates, the number of polymorphic sites within the U.S. population is about the same as between divergent strains or a sister species. Characteristics of polymorphism in the WSMV coat protein gene suggest that most variation appears neutral.