New fungus species discovered on Twitter


This 16 May 2020 video says about itself:

Scientist Discovers New Fungus on Twitter, called Troglomyces twitteri

New species of fungus that pierces its host to suck nutrients is discovered on TWITTER after biologists spot an image of an American millipede with bizarre red dots in a tweet.

From the University of Copenhagen in Denmark:

Bizarre new species discovered… on Twitter

May 15, 2020

Summary: A new species of fungus has been discovered via Twitter and christened accordingly — Troglomyces twitteri. This unique fungal parasite grows around the reproductive organs of millipedes.

While many of us use social media to be tickled silly by cat videos or wowed by delectable cakes, others use them to discover new species. Included in the latter group are researchers from the University of Copenhagen’s Natural History Museum of Denmark. Indeed, they just found a new type of parasitic fungus via Twitter.

It all began as biologist and associate professor Ana Sofia Reboleira of the National Natural History Museum was scrolling though Twitter. There, she stumbled upon a photo of a North American millipede shared by her US colleague Derek Hennen of Virginia Tech. She spotted a few tiny dots that struck her well-trained eyes.

“I could see something looking like fungi on the surface of the millipede. Until then, these fungi had never been found on American millipedes. So, I went to my colleague and showed him the image. That’s when we ran down to the museum’s collections and began digging,” explains Ana Sofia Reboleira.

Together with colleague Henrik Enghoff, she discovered several specimens of the same fungus on a few of the American millipedes in the Natural History Museum’s enormous collection — fungi that had never before been documented. This confirmed the existence of a previously unknown species of Laboulbeniales — an order of tiny, bizarre and largely unknown fungal parasites that attack insects and millipedes.

The newly discovered parasitic fungus has now been given its official Latin name, Troglomyces twitteri.

SoMe meets museum

Ana Sofia Reboleira points out that the discovery is an example of how sharing information on social media can result in completely unexpected results:

“As far as we know, this is the first time that a new species has been discovered on Twitter. It highlights the importance of these platforms for sharing research — and thereby being able to achieve new results. I hope that it will motivate professional and amateur researchers to share more data via social media. This is something that has been increasingly obvious during the coronavirus crisis, a time when so many are prevented from getting into the field or laboratories.”

Reboleira believes that social media is generally playing a larger and larger role in research.

She stresses that the result was possible because of her access to one of the world’s largest biological collections.

“Because of our vast museum collection, it was relatively easy to confirm that we were indeed looking at an entirely new species for science. This demonstrates how valuable museum collections are. There is much more hiding in these collections than we know,” says Ana Sofia Reboleira.

Underappreciated parasitic fungus

Laboulbeniales-fungi look like tiny larvae. The fungi are in a class of their own because they live on the outside of host organisms, and even on specific parts of bodies — in this case, on the reproductive organs of millipedes. The fungus sucks nutrition from its host animal by piercing the host’s outer shell using a special suction structure, while the other half of the fungus protrudes.

Approximately 30 different species of parasitic Laboulbeniales-fungi attack millipedes. The vast majority of these were only discovered after 2014. According to Reboleira, there are most likely a great number remaining to be discovered. Research in the area of Laboulbeniales remains extremely scarce.

Nor is much known about their own biology, says Reboleira, who researches these fungi on a daily basis. She believes that these fungi can not only teach us about the insects upon which they live, but also about the mechanisms behind parasitism itself — that is, the relationship between parasites and their hosts. She hopes that the research will also provide useful knowledge about the parasites that attack and can be harmful to human health.

FACTS:

  • The new species Troglomyces twitteri belongs to the order of microscopic parasitic fungi known as Laboulbeniales. These fungi live on insects, arachnids and millipedes, and rely on their host organisms to survive.
  • The research was conducted by: Sergi Santamaria of the Departament de Biologia Animal, de Biologia Vegetal i d’Ecologia, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Spain; and Henrik Enghoff & Ana Sofia Reboleira from the Natural History Museum of Denmark at the University of Copenhagen.
  • Millipede specimens from the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle (MNHN) in Paris helped confirm the discovery of the new species of fungus.
  • The Natural History Museum of Denmark’s entomological collection is one of the world’s largest, housing more than 3.5 million pin-mounted insects and at least as many alcohol-preserved insect and land animal specimens. About 100,000 known species are represented (out of a total number of over one million species)

What gypsy moth caterpillars eat


This 27 March 2020 video from the USA says about itself:

The first episode of Insect Xaminer features gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar). Join UMass Extension as we get an up-close and personal view of this invasive insect’s life cycle and two pathogens that help keep gypsy moth populations below outbreak levels in Massachusetts.

From the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Germany:

Gypsy moth larvae love poplar leaves infected by fungi

April 20, 2020

Black poplar leaves infected by fungi are especially susceptible to attack by gypsy moth caterpillars. A research team at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena, Germany, has now further investigated this observation. The scientists found that the young larvae of this herbivore upgrade their diet with fungal food: Caterpillars that fed on leaves covered with fungal spores grew faster and pupated a few days earlier than those feeding only on leaf tissue. The higher concentrations of important nutrients in fungi, such as amino acids, nitrogen and vitamins, are probably the reason for their better performance. The results shed new light on the co-evolution of plants and insects, in which fungi and other microorganisms play a much greater role than previously assumed.

Gypsy moth caterpillars are known as feeding generalists; this means they accept a large variety of deciduous trees species and shrubs as their food plants. Outbreaks of this species have been documented every now and then also in German forest ecosystems.

Sybille Unsicker and her research team are investigating how poplars defend themselves against herbivores, including the gypsy moth. The scientists had observed that these trees downregulate their defense against the voracious insect when they are simultaneously being attacked by fungi. “We noticed that caterpillars are attracted by the odor of fungus-infested poplars, so we wondered why this is so: Would the caterpillars prefer to feed on infested leaves as well? Would this provide an advantage? And if so, what kind of chemicals are responsible for this?” first author Franziska Eberl asks, describing the basic questions of the study.

Feeding experiments in which the gypsy moth larvae were offered a choice of leaves with or without fungal infection revealed the clear preference of the caterpillars for leaves infected with fungi. In the early larval stage, they even consumed the fungal spores on the leaf surface before feeding on leaf tissue. “Whether rust fungi or mildew, young caterpillars selectively fed on the spores and preferred to feed on infected leaves,” explains Franziska Eberl. Chemical analyses showed that mannitol, a substance that is also used as an artificial sweetener in human food, is primarily responsible for this preference. Eberl also monitored larval fitness, which is shown by how well larvae develop — a measurement that depends largely on their diet. “Larvae that consume fungus-infected leaves develop faster and also pupate earlier. This gives them an advantage over their siblings who feed on healthy leaves. Important nutrients, such as amino acids, nitrogen and B vitamins, are likely responsible for increased growth, because their concentration is higher infected leaves,” said the researcher.

The role of microorganisms puts the co-evolution of plants and insects in a new light

The observation that an insect classified as an herbivore is actually a fungivore — at least in its early larval stage — was a real surprise for the research team. “Our results suggest that microorganisms living on plants might have a more important role in the co-evolution of plants and insects than previously thought,” says Sybille Unsicker, head of the study. “In the black poplar trees from our study, fungal infestation occurs every year. It is therefore indeed imaginable that herbivorous insects have been able to adapt to the additional fungal resource. Especially with regards to the longevity of trees, the evolutionary adaptation to a diet consisting of leaves and fungi seems plausible for such insects.”

Further investigations are needed to clarify how widespread fungivory is in other herbivorous insect species and what influence the combination of plant and fungal food has on the immune system of insects. It is possible that this food niche also has an effect on the insects’ own defense against their enemies, such as parasitoid wasps. The role of microorganisms in the interactions between plants and insects has long been underestimated, even overlooked. This study is an important step to make up for that neglect.

Will Asian snails save Puerto Rican coffee?


This video is about the snail Bradybaena similaris.

From the University of Michigan in the USA:

Can a tiny invasive snail help save Latin American coffee?

January 23, 2020

While conducting fieldwork in Puerto Rico’s central mountainous region in 2016, University of Michigan ecologists noticed tiny trails of bright orange snail excrement on the undersurface of coffee leaves afflicted with coffee leaf rust, the crop’s most economically important pest.

Intrigued, they conducted field observations and laboratory experiments over the next several years and showed that the widespread invasive snail Bradybaena similaris, commonly known as the Asian tramp snail and normally a plant-eater, had shifted its diet to consume the fungal pathogen that causes coffee leaf rust, which has ravaged coffee plantations across Latin America in recent years.

Now the U-M researchers are exploring the possibility that B. similaris and other snails and slugs, which are part of a large class of animals called gastropods, could be used as a biological control to help rein in coffee leaf rust. But as ecologists, they are keenly aware of the many disastrous attempts at biological control of pests in the past.

“This is the first time that any gastropod has been described as consuming this pathogen, and this finding may potentially have implications for controlling it in Puerto Rico,” said U-M doctoral student Zachary Hajian-Forooshani, lead author of a paper published online Jan. 12 in the journal Ecology.

“But further work is needed to understand the potential tradeoffs B. similaris and other gastropods may provide to coffee agroecosystems, given our understanding of other elements within the system,” said Hajian-Forooshani, who is advised by U-M ecologist John Vandermeer, a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

Vandermeer and U-M ecologist Ivette Perfecto, a professor at the School for Environment and Sustainability, lead a team that has been monitoring coffee leaf rust and its community of natural enemies on 25 farms throughout Puerto Rico’s coffee-producing region.

Those natural enemies include fly larvae, mites, and a surprisingly diverse community of fungi living on coffee leaves, within or alongside the orange blotches that mark coffee leaf rust lesions. Hajian-Forooshani has been studying all of these natural enemies for his doctoral dissertation.

“Of all the natural enemies I have been studying, these gastropods in Puerto Rico most obviously and effectively clear the leaves of the coffee leaf rust fungal spores,” he said in an email from Puerto Rico.

Chief among those gastropods is B. similaris, originally from Southeast Asia and now one of the world’s most widely distributed invasive land snails. It has a light brown shell that is 12 to 16 millimeters (roughly one-half to two-thirds of an inch) across.

In their Ecology paper, Hajian-Forooshani, Vandermeer and Perfecto describe experiments in which a single infected coffee leaf and a single B. similaris snail were placed together inside dark containers. After 24 hours, the number of coffee leaf rust fungal spores on the leaves had been reduced by roughly 30%.

However, the snails were also responsible for a roughly 17% reduction in the number of lesions caused by another natural enemy of coffee leaf rust, the parasitic fungus Lecanicillium lecanii.

“With the data we are collecting now, we seek to find out if there are any apparent tradeoffs between these two consumers of the coffee leaf rust,” Hajian-Forooshani said. “For example, if the fungal parasite is especially efficient at reducing the rust, and the snail eats it along with the rust itself, that could be a tradeoff: promote the snail to control the rust and face the possibility that the snail eats too much of the other controlling factor.”

In their Ecology paper, the authors say they’re cognizant of “the many disastrous attempts at classical biological control” in the past.

One of the best-known examples of a biological backfire was the introduction of the cane toad into Australia in the mid-1930s to control a beetle that was destroying sugar cane. Long story short, the cane toad was completely ineffective at controlling the beetle and became a pest in its own right by multiplying dramatically in the absence of natural enemies.

So, it’s too soon to tell if the fungus-eating appetite of B. similaris and other snails could be harnessed in the fight against coffee leaf rust. One big unanswered question: Do the fungal spores remain viable after they pass through the guts of the snails?

“The gastropods seem to reduce the number of spores on the leaf, but it’s not clear if the spores can still germinate in the excrement,” Hajian-Forooshani said. “Also, we don’t know how the effect of the gastropods on coffee leaf rust scales up to impact the pathogen dynamics at the farm or regional scale.”

And the potential role of gastropods in the fight against coffee rust elsewhere in Latin America remains unknown. But the U-M researchers hope their findings in Puerto Rico will stimulate further research in other coffee-growing regions.

Rare fungi discovery in Dutch Drenthe


Peziza subviolacea, photo by Ronald Morsink

Translated from Dutch NOS radio today:

New mushroom species have been discovered in the Drents-Friese Wold National Park. The nature reserve had to deal with a major fire in 2018, during which 75 hectares were destroyed. That fire also yielded new nature.

For a year and a half, research was carried out on heathland mushrooms in the Dolsummerveld area . …

The research yielded various rare species, such as Peziza subviolacea, Pyronema omphalodes and Pholiota highlandensis. A new species was also discovered, which was also found two weeks earlier in Enschede. It is Myrmaecium rubricosum. …

Quick recovery

The Dolsummerveld recovers surprisingly quickly from the fire, according to the Drenthe conservation organisation. “It is barely visible where the fire has raged. The hope is that the heather will return to the area,” the foundation writes. It will take a few more years for the snake and butterfly population to be back up, writes RTV Drenthe. Many animals died during the fire, such as grass snakes, adders and slow worms.

Young toad, robins, fungi of Terschelling


This June 2014 video shows a small young natterjack toad being freed again in the wild in the Netherlands.

After 28 September 2019 on Terschelling island came 30 September for us.

A small young natterjack toad had managed to slip under our front door. We returned it to the sand dunes area.

In the gardens on both sides of the Parnassiaweg road in West-Terschelling village, robins sang, replying to each other.

In one of these gardens, sulphur tuft fungi.

This September 2015 video from Britain is about sulphur tuft mushrooms.

The next day, 30 September, we left Terschelling by boat. In the harbour, black-headed gulls and herring gulls.

Beetles help each other against pathogenic fungi


This video from the USA says about itself:

Richard Stouthamer on “What is the Problem” during the Public Session of the “Invasive Ambrosia Beetle Conference – The Situation in California” on August 14th, 2012.

From the University of Bern in Switzerland:

Bark beetles control pathogenic fungi

December 20, 2019

Summary: Pathogens can drive the evolution of social behavior in insects.

Ants and honeybees share nests of hundreds or thousands of individuals in a very small space. Hence the risk is high that infectious diseases may spread rapidly. In order to reduce this risk, the animals have developed special social behaviours that are referred to as “social immune defence.” This achievement is generally assumed to have evolved only in the eusocial insects including ants, bees and wasps. The finding that also more primitively social ambrosia beetles remove pathogens by cleaning each other indicates that social immunity may have evolved already much earlier. This was reported in the British science journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B by Jon A. Nuotcla and Michael Taborsky from the University of Bern (Switzerland), in collaboration with Peter Biedermann from the Julius-Maximilians-Universität (JMU) Würzburg in Bavaria, Germany.

Beetles help to raise siblings

“Ambrosia beetles live in galleries dug out of wood, and the roles of group members are not as strictly defined as in the colonies of bees and ants,” says Jon Nuotclà, a PhD-student at the Institute of Ecology and Evolution of the University of Bern, and first author of the study. Workers can decide on their own whether to help their mother to care for the brood and fungus plantation, or rather to emigrate and establish an own nest. “In the evolution of social behaviour, ambrosia beetles are an intermediate stage between the solitarily and the socially living insects,” outlines Peter Biedermann, a researcher at the JMU Biocentre. But when it comes to disease prevention, they apparently behave like social insects.

Fungal spores trigger mutual cleaning behaviour

“Our experiments indicate that the defence against pathogens may be an important factor in the evolution of social behaviour,” says Michael Taborsky, who supervised this study. If the scientists sprayed spores of the pathogenic fungus Aspergillus into the beetle nests, the workers showed enhanced cleaning of their nestmates. “In fungus-laden nests, the beetles were also more inclined to serve the community: they then stayed longer in the nest to help raising sisters,” Taborsky explains. As a next step, the researchers plan to investigate whether the saliva of the ambrosia beetles might contain antibiotic substances that kill the spores of Aspergillus fungi. It also remains to be studied how the beetles can prevent the development of resistance in pathogenic fungi.

A Beetle performing agriculture

Ambrosia beetles belong to the bark beetles that generally are not popular with the forest industry due to the economic damage they may cause. Their several thousand species are distributed worldwide. Ambrosia beetles infest dying or freshly dead trees and perform agriculture in their heartwood. The beetles are attracted by the alcohol exuded by these trees. They drill galleries into the stems and create ambrosia fungus plantations. These fungi serve as food for them and their larvae.

Fly agaric fungi and sanderlings of Terschelling


Fly agaric fungi, Terschelling 28 September 2019

After 27 September 2019 on Terschelling island came 28 September. As we walked again to the North Sea shore, we saw these fly agaric fungi.

A robin sang.

At a Kroonpolders shallow lake, ringed plovers on the opposite bank.

A chaffinch singing.

Beach, Terschelling 28 September 2019

We reached the beach, as this Lensbaby photo shows.

Scores of great cormorants flew past.

Sanderling, Terschelling 28 September 2019

There were sanderlings, like this one.

Sanderlings sleeping, Terschelling 28 September 2019

And these sleepy ones.

Sanderlings, Terschelling 28 September 2019

And these ones.

And black-headed gulls and herring gulls. Lesser black-backed gulls and a common gull. Two oystercatchers.

Stay tuned, there will be more on this blog about Terschelling birds and other wildlife that day!

Birds, young toad, mushrooms of Terschelling


Sand dunes, 27 September 2019

After 26 September 2019 on Terschelling island came 29 September. Again, to the sand dunes north of West-Terschelling village.

Sand dunes, on 27 September 2019

Amanita mushrooms. A still very small young natterjack toad crosses the footpath.

Eight carrion crows in the Groene Strand area. A curlew calls.

Rainbow, 27 September 2019

We saw the final row of sand dunes south of the North Sea coast. And a rainbow. The weather was very changeable between sunshine and showers.

Mushrooms, 27 September 2019

Along the footpath, these common stinkhorn mushrooms. Their smell attracted flies.

North Sea, 27 september 2019

We had almost reached the North Sea beach.

Stay tuned, as there will be more on that 27 September on this blog!