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Title: Correlation between infection by ophiostomatoid fungi and the presence of subterranean termites in Loblolly pine (Pinus taeda L.) roots

item RIGGINS, JOHN - Mississippi State University
item Little, Nathan
item ECKHARDT, LORI - Auburn University

Submitted to: Agricultural and Forest Entomology
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 8/22/2013
Publication Date: 2/13/2014
Citation: Riggins, J.J., Little, N., Eckhardt, L.G. 2014. Correlation between infection by ophiostomatoid fungi and the presence of subterranean termites in Loblolly pine (Pinus taeda L.) roots. Agricultural and Forest Entomology. 16(3):260-264.

Interpretive Summary: This manuscript demonstrates that the presence of some species of ophiostomatoid fungi (in the genus Leptographium) in roots of living loblolly pine trees is strongly correlated with the presence of subterranean termites in those roots. The dataset used for this study was extensive; roots from 2,350 trees were sampled in four different southeastern states in the U.S.A. To our knowledge, this is the first evidence linking a fungus to termite activity in below-ground portions of living trees. This finding has important implications for forest ecology, as the ecological role of subterranean termites in temperate forest nutrient cycles is relatively unknown. This discovery of interactions between subterranean termites and herbivores/pathogens of living pine roots could dramatically change our understanding of pine death and decomposition in temperate forests, and the role that subterranean termites play during those fundamental processes. The findings of this manuscript are highly novel and the potential symbioses we report may have broad-reaching consequences.

Technical Abstract: Observations of subterranean termites feeding in pine sapwood containing ophiostomatoid fungi prompted a study to investigate the effect of infection by Leptographium fungi on the probability of encountering subterranean termites in loblolly pine (Pinus taeda L.) roots. Root samples were collected from 2,350 loblolly pine trees in Alabama, Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi using hand tools. The presence or absence of subterranean termites in the roots was recorded. Samples were plated on MEA and CSMA and incubated to determine which, if any, fungal species were present. The presence of L. procerum and L. terebrantis in root samples significantly increased the prevalence of subterranean termites versus roots lacking Leptographium fungi. The results from this study indicate that complex ecological interactions may exist between root-feeding bark beetles and weevils, ophiostomatoid fungi, and subterranean termites.