Experimental evidence of bark beetle adaptation to a fungal symbiont

Ryan R. Bracewell, Diana L. Six

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


The importance of symbiotic microbes to insects cannot be overstated; however, we have a poor understanding of the evolutionary processes that shape most insect-microbe interactions. Many bark beetle (Coleoptera: Curculionidae, Scolytinae) species are involved in what have been described as obligate mutualisms with symbiotic fungi. Beetles benefit through supplementing their nutrient-poor diet with fungi and the fungi benefit through gaining transportation to resources. However, only a few beetle-fungal symbioses have been experimentally manipulated to test whether the relationship is obligate. Furthermore, none have tested for adaptation of beetles to their specific symbionts, one of the requirements for coevolution. We experimentally manipulated the western pine beetle-fungus symbiosis to determine whether the beetle is obligately dependent upon fungi and to test for fine-scale adaptation of the beetle to one of its symbiotic fungi, Entomocorticium sp. B. We reared beetles from a single population with either a natal isolate of E. sp. B (isolated from the same population from which the beetles originated), a non-natal isolate (a genetically divergent isolate from a geographically distant beetle population), or with no fungi. We found that fungi were crucial for the successful development of western pine beetles. We also found no significant difference in the effects of the natal and non-natal isolate on beetle fitness parameters. However, brood adult beetles failed to incorporate the non-natal fungus into their fungal transport structure (mycangium) indicating adaption by the beetle to particular genotypes of symbiotic fungi. Our results suggest that beetle-fungus mutualisms and symbiont fidelity may be maintained via an undescribed recognition mechanism of the beetles for particular symbionts that may promote particular associations through time.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5109-5119
Number of pages11
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number21
StatePublished - Nov 2015


  • Dendroctonus
  • Entomocorticium
  • Mutualism
  • Mycangia
  • Symbiosis


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