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Fruit, flies and filamentous fungi - experimental analysis of animal-microbe competition using Drosophila melanogaster and Aspergillus mould as a model system

Fruit, flies and filamentous fungi - experimental analysis of animal-microbe competition using Drosophila melanogaster and Aspergillus mould as a model system

Oikos 119(11): 1765-1775

In addition to their fundamental role in nutrient recycling, saprobiotic microorganisms may be considered as typical consumers of food-limited ephemeral resource patches. As such, they may be engaged in inter-specific competition with saprophagous animals feeding from the same resource. Bacteria and filamentous fungi are known to synthesise secondary metabolites, some of which are toxic and have been proposed to deter or harm animals. The microorganisms may, however, also be negatively affected if saprophagous animals do not avoid microbe-laden resources but feed in the presence of microbial competitors. We hypothesised that filamentous fungi compete with saprophagous insects, whereby secondary metabolites provide a chemical shield against the insect competitors. For testing this, we developed a new ecological model system representing a case of animal-microbe competition between saprobiotic organisms, comprising Drosophila melanogaster and species of the fungus Aspergillus (A. nidulans, A. fumigatus, A. flavus). Infestation of Drosophila breeding substrate with proliferating fungal colonies caused graduated larval mortality that strongly depended on mould species and colony age. Confrontation with conidiospores only, did not result in significant changes in larval survival, suggesting that insect death may not be ascribed to pathogenic effects. When confronted with colonies of transgenic fungi that lack the ability to express the global secondary metabolite regulator LaeA ( DELTA laeA), larval mortality was significantly reduced compared to the impact of the wild type strains. Yet, also in the. DELTA laeA strains, inter-specific variation in the influence on insect growth occurred. Competition with Drosophila larvae impaired fungal growth, however, wild type colonies of A. nidulans and A. flavus recovered more rapidly from insect competition than the corresponding. DELTA laeA mutants (not in A. fumigatus). Our findings provide genetic evidence that toxic secondary metabolites synthesised by saprotrophic fungi may serve as a means to combat insect competitors. Variation in the ability of LaeA to control expression of various secondary metabolite gene clusters might explain the observed species-specific variation in Drosophila-Aspergillus competition.

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Accession: 037425015

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DOI: 10.1111/j.1600-0706.2010.18088.x

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