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Environ Entomol. 2007 Oct;36(5):1226-37.

Discovery of fungus-mite mutualism in a unique niche.

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  • 1Department of Botany and Zoology, Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa. fr@sun.ac.za

Abstract

The floral heads (infructescences) of South African Protea L. represent a most unusual niche for fungi of the economically important genus Ophiostoma Syd. and P. Syd. emend. Z.W. de Beer et al. Current consensus holds that most members of Ophiostoma are vectored by tree-infesting bark beetles. However, it has recently been suggested that mites, phoretic on these bark beetles, may play a central role in the dispersal of Ophiostoma. No bark beetles are known from Protea. Therefore, identifying the vectors of Ophiostoma in Protea infructescences would independently evaluate the role of various arthropods in the dispersal of Ophiostoma. Infructescence-colonizing arthropods were tested for the presence of Ophiostoma DNA using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and for reproductive propagules by isolation on agar plates. PCR tests revealed that few insects carried Ophiostoma DNA. In contrast, various mites (Proctolaelaps vandenbergi Ryke, two species of Tarsonemus Canestrini and Fonzago, and one Trichouropoda Berlese species) frequently carried Ophiostoma propagules. DNA sequence comparisons for 28S ribosomal DNA confirmed the presence of O. splendens G. J. Marais and M. J. Wingf., O. palmiculminatum Roets et al., and O. phasma Roets et al. on these mites. Two apparently undescribed species of Ophiostoma were also identified. Light and scanning electron microscopy revealed specialized structures in Trichouropoda and one Tarsonemus sp. that frequently contained Ophiostoma spores. The Trichouropoda sp. was able to complete its life cycle on a diet consisting solely of its identified phoretic Ophiostoma spp. This study provides compelling evidence that mites are the primary vectors of infructescence-associated Ophiostoma spp. in South Africa.

PMID:
18284748
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

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