Birds mediate a fungus-mite mutualism

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Peer-Reviewed Research
  • SDG 15
  • SDG 13
  • Abstract:

    Mutualisms between ophiostomatoid fungi and arthropods have been well documented. These fungi commonly aid arthropod nutrition and, in turn, are transported to new niches by these arthropods. The inflorescences of Protea trees provide a niche for a unique assemblage of ophiostomatoid fungi. Here, mites feed on Sporothrix fungi and vector the spores to new niches. Protea-pollinating beetles transport the spore-carrying mites between Protea trees. However, many Protea species are primarily pollinated by birds that potentially play a central role in the Protea-Sporothrix-mite system. To investigate the role of birds in the movement of mites and/or fungal spores, mites were collected from Protea inflorescences and cape sugarbirds, screened for Sporothrix fungal spores and tested for their ability to feed and reproduce on the fungal associates. Two mite species where abundant in both Protea inflorescences and on cape sugarbirds and regularly carried Sporothrix fungal spores. One of these mite species readily fed and reproduced on its transported fungal partner. For dispersal, this mite (a Glycyphagus sp.) attached to a larger mite species (Proctolaelaps vandenbergi) which, in turn, were carried by the birds to new inflorescences. The results of this study provide compelling evidence for a new mite-fungus mutualism, new mite-mite commensalisms and the first evidence of birds transporting mites with Sporothrix fungal spores to colonise new Protea trees