Fungus-growing termites of the subfamily Macrotermitinae together with their highly specialized fungal symbionts (Termitomyces) are primary decomposers of dead plant matter in many African savanna ecosystems. The termites provide crucial ecosystem services also by modifying soil properties, translocating nutrients, and as important drivers of plant succession. Despite their obvious ecological importance, many basic features in the biology of fungus-growing termites and especially their fungal symbionts remain poorly known, and no studies have so far focused on possible habitat-level differences in symbiont diversity across heterogeneous landscapes. We studied the species identities of Macrotermes termites and their Termitomyces symbionts by excavating 143 termite mounds at eight study sites in the semiarid Tsavo Ecosystem of southern Kenya. Reference specimens were identified by sequencing the COI region from termites and the ITS region from symbiotic fungi. The results demonstrate that the regional Macrotermes community in Tsavo includes two sympatric species (M. subhyalinus and M. michaelseni) which cultivate and largely share three species of Termitomyces symbionts. A single species of fungus is always found in each termite mound, but even closely adjacent colonies of the same termite species often house evolutionarily divergent fungi. The species identities of both partners vary markedly between sites, suggesting hitherto unknown differences in their ecological requirements. It is apparent that both habitat heterogeneity and disturbance history can influence the regional distribution patterns of both partners in symbiosis.
|Status||Publicerad - maj 2017|
- 1181 Ekologi, evolutionsbiologi
- 1183 Växtbiologi, mikrobiologi, virologi