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      Ecological and Evolutionary Determinants of Bark Beetle —Fungus Symbioses


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          Ectosymbioses among bark beetles (Curculionidae, Scolytinae) and fungi (primarily ophiostomatoid Ascomycetes) are widespread and diverse. Associations range from mutualistic to commensal, and from facultative to obligate. Some fungi are highly specific and associated only with a single beetle species, while others can be associated with many. In addition, most of these symbioses are multipartite, with the host beetle associated with two or more consistent partners. Mycangia, structures of the beetle integument that function in fungal transport, have evolved numerous times in the Scolytinae. The evolution of such complex, specialized structures indicates a high degree of mutual dependence among the beetles and their fungal partners. Unfortunately, the processes that shaped current day beetle-fungus symbioses remain poorly understood. Phylogeny, the degree and type of dependence on partners, mode of transmission of symbionts (vertical vs. horizontal), effects of the abiotic environment, and interactions among symbionts themselves or with other members of the biotic community, all play important roles in determining the composition, fidelity, and longevity of associations between beetles and their fungal associates. In this review, I provide an overview of these associations and discuss how evolution and ecological processes acted in concert to shape these fascinating, complex symbioses.

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          Interactions among Scolytid bark beetles, their associated fungi, and live host conifers.

          Scolytid bark beetles that colonize living conifers are frequently associated with specific fungi that are carried in specialized structures or on the body surface. These fungi are introduced into the tree during the attack process. The continuing association suggests that there is mutual benefit to the fitness of both beetles and fungi. The fungal species may benefit from the association with the beetles by transport to new host trees. Beetle species may benefit from the association with fungi by feeding on the fungi, or by the fungi contributing to the death of the host trees through mycelial penetration of host tissue, toxin release, interactions with preformed and induced conifer defenses, or the combined action of both beetles and fungi during colonization. Extensive research has been directed towards characterizing the interactions of beetle-fungal complexes with live host conifers and determining the ecological advantages for maintaining the associations. However, differences among systems and how species interact under different population and environmental conditions make it difficult to generalize about the importance of the separate biological components in successful host colonization.
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            Bacterial protection of beetle-fungus mutualism.

            Host-microbe symbioses play a critical role in the evolution of biological diversity and complexity. In a notably intricate system, southern pine beetles use symbiotic fungi to help overcome host-tree defenses and to provide nutrition for their larvae. We show that this beetle-fungal mutualism is chemically mediated by a bacterially produced polyunsaturated peroxide. The molecule's selective toxicity toward the beetle's fungal antagonist, combined with the prevalence and localization of its bacterial source, indicates an insect-microbe association that is both mutualistic and coevolved. This unexpected finding in a well-studied system indicates that mutualistic associations between insects and antibiotic-producing bacteria are more common than currently recognized and that identifying their small-molecule mediators can provide a powerful search strategy for therapeutically useful antimicrobial compounds.
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              Nitrogen in insects: implications for trophic complexity and species diversification.

              Disparities in nutrient content (nitrogen and phosphorus) between herbivores and their plant resources have lately proven to have major consequences for herbivore success, consumer-driven nutrient cycling, and the fate of primary production in ecosystems. Here we extend these findings by examining patterns of nutrient content between animals at higher trophic levels, specifically between insect herbivores and predators. Using a recently compiled database on insect nutrient content, we found that predators exhibit on average 15% greater nitrogen content than herbivores. This difference persists after accounting for variation from phylogeny and allometry. Among herbivorous insects, we also found evidence that recently derived lineages (e.g., herbivorous Diptera and Lepidoptera) have, on a relative basis, 15%-25% less body nitrogen than more ancient herbivore lineages (e.g., herbivorous Orthoptera and Hemiptera). We elaborate several testable hypotheses for the origin of differences in nitrogen content between trophic levels and among phylogenetic lineages. For example, interspecific variation in insect nitrogen content may be directly traceable to differences in dietary nitrogen (including dilution by gut contents), selected for directly in response to the differential scarcity of dietary nitrogen, or an indirect consequence of adaptation to different feeding habits. From some functional perspectives, the magnitude rather than the source of the interspecific differences in nitrogen content may be most critical. We conclude by discussing the implications of the observed patterns for both the trophic complexity of food webs and the evolutionary radiation of herbivorous insects.

                Author and article information

                22 March 2012
                March 2012
                : 3
                : 1
                : 339-366
                Department of Ecosystem and Conservation Sciences, College of Forestry and Conservation, University of Montana, Missoula, MT 59812, USA; E-Mail: diana.six@ 123456cfc.umt.edu
                © 2012 by the authors; licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.

                This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution license ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/).

                : 16 February 2012
                : 01 March 2012
                : 15 March 2012

                ophiostoma,grosmannia,leptographium,ceratocystiopsis,ceratocystis,raffaelea,ambrosiella,cospeciation,host-switching,symbiosis,symbiont redundancy,ambrosia beetle


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