ESA Annual Meetings Online Program

Resource competition between two fungal parasites in subterranean termites

Wednesday, November 14, 2012: 10:33 AM
301 D, Floor Three (Knoxville Convention Center)
Thomas Chouvenc , Department of Entomology & Nematology, University of Florida, Davie, FL
Caroline Efstathion , Department of Entomology & Nematology, University of Florida, Davie, FL
Nan-Yao Su , Department of Entomology and Nematology, University of Florida, Davie, FL
Subterranean termites live in large groups in underground nests where the pathogenic pressure of the soil environment has led to the evolution of a complex interaction among individual and social immune mechanisms in the colonies. However, groups of termites under stress can show increased susceptibility to opportunistic parasites. In this study, an isolate of Aspergillus nomius Kurtzman, Horn & Hessltine was obtained from a collapsed termite laboratory colony. We determined that it was primarily a saprophyte and, secondarily, a facultative parasite if the termite immunity was previously stressed. This was determined by stressing individuals of the Formosan subterranean termite Coptotermes formosanus Shiraki via a primary exposure to the virulent fungal parasite Metarhizium anisopliae (Metch.) Sorokin. We also examined the dynamics of a mixed infection of A. nomius and M. anisopliae in a single termite host. The virulent parasite M. anisopliae debilitated the termite immune system, but the facultative, fast growing parasite A. nomius dominated the superimposed infection process. The resource utilization strategy of A. nomius during the superimposed infection resulted in successful conidia production, while the chance for M. anisopliae to complete its life cycle was reduced. Our results also suggest that the occurrence of opportunistic parasites such as A. nomius in collapsing termite laboratory colonies is the consequence of a previous stress, not the cause of the stress