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‘Simple’ bacteria found to organize in elaborate patterns

Date:January 6, 2022Source:University of California – San Diego Summary: Researchers have discovered that biofilms, bacterial communities found throughout the living world, are far more advanced than previously believed. Scientists found that biofilm cells are organized in elaborate patterns, a feature that previously only had been associated with higher-level organisms such as plants and animals.Share:FULL STORY


Bacteria illustration (stock image).Credit: © SciePro / stock.adobe.com

Over the past several years, research from University of California San Diego biologist Gürol Süel’s laboratory has uncovered a series of remarkable features exhibited by clusters of bacteria that live together in communities known as biofilms.

Biofilms are prevalent in the living world, inhabiting sewer pipes, kitchen counters and even the surface of our teeth. A previous research study demonstrated that these biofilms employ sophisticated systems to communicate with one another, while another proved biofilms have a robust capacity for memory.

Süel’s laboratory, along with researchers at Stanford University and the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Spain, has now found a feature of biofilms that reveal these communities as far more advanced than previously believed. Biological Sciences graduate student Kwang-Tao Chou, former Biological Sciences graduate student Daisy Lee, Süel and their colleagues discovered that biofilm cells are organized in elaborate patterns, a feature that previously only had been associated with higher-level organisms such as plants and animals. The findings, which describe the culmination of eight years of research, are published Jan. 6 in the journal Cell.

“We are seeing that biofilms are much more sophisticated than we thought,” said Süel, a UC San Diego professor in the Division of Biological Sciences’ Section of Molecular Biology, with affiliations in the San Diego Center for Systems Biology, BioCircuits Institute and Center for Microbiome Innovation. “From a biological perspective our results suggest that the concept of cell patterning during development is far more ancient than previously thought. Apparently, the ability of cells to segment themselves in space and time did not just emerge with plants and vertebrates, but may go back over a billion years.”

Biofilm communities are made up of cells of different types. Scientists previously had not thought that these disparate cells could be organized into regulated complex patterns. For the new study, the scientists developed experiments and a mathematical model that revealed the genetic basis for a “clock and wavefront” mechanism, previously only seen in highly evolved organisms ranging from plants to fruit flies to humans. As the biofilm expands and consumes nutrients, a “wave” of nutrient depletion moves across cells within the bacterial community and freezes a molecular clock inside each cell at a specific time and position, creating an intricate composite pattern of repeating segments of distinct cell types.

The breakthrough for the researchers was the ability to identify the genetic circuit underlying the biofilm’s ability to generate the biofilm community-wide concentric rings of gene expression patterns. The researchers were then able to model predictions showing that biofilms could inherently generate many segments.

“Our discovery demonstrates that bacterial biofilms employ a developmental patterning mechanism hitherto believed to be exclusive to vertebrates and plant systems,” the authors note in the Cell paper.

The study’s findings offer implications for a multitude of research areas. Because biofilms are pervasive in our lives, they are of interest in applications ranging from medicine to the food industry and even the military. Biofilms as systems with the capability to test how simple cell systems can organize themselves into complex patterns could be useful in developmental biology to investigate specific aspects of the clock and waveform mechanism that functions in vertebrates, as one example.

“We can see that bacterial communities are not just globs of cells,” said Süel, who envisions research collaborations offering bacteria as new paradigms for studying developmental patterns. “Having a bacterial system allows us to provide some answers that are difficult to obtain in vertebrate and plant systems because bacteria offer more experimentally accessible systems that could provide new insights for the field of development.”

Coauthors of the paper include: Kwang-Tao Chou (UC San Diego graduate student), Dong-yeon Lee (former UC San Diego graduate student, now a postdoctoral scholar at Stanford University), Jian-geng Chiou (UC San Diego postdoctoral scholar), Leticia Galera-Laporta (UC San Diego postdoctoral scholar), San Ly (former UC San Diego researcher), Jordi Garcia-Ojalvo (Universitat Pompeu Fabra Professor) and Gürol Süel (UC San Diego Professor).


Story Source:

Materials provided by University of California – San Diego. Original written by Mario Aguilera. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.


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Journal Reference:

  1. Kwang-Tao Chou, Dong-yeon D. Lee, Jian-geng Chiou, Leticia Galera-Laporta, San Ly, Jordi Garcia-Ojalvo, Gürol M. Süel. A segmentation clock patterns cellular differentiation in a bacterial biofilmCell, 2022; 185 (1): 145 DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2021.12.001

Cite This Page:

University of California – San Diego. “‘Simple’ bacteria found to organize in elaborate patterns.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 6 January 2022. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2022/01/220106111601.htm>.

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Host and resident bacteria join forces to control fungi in plant roots

Date:December 2, 2021Source:Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding ResearchSummary:Researchers have discovered that diverse root-colonizing fungi can benefit plants, but only when they are kept in check by the host innate immune system and the bacteria residing in roots.Share:FULL STORY


In nature, the roots of healthy plants are colonized by complex microbial communities of bacteria and filamentous eukaryotes (i.e., fungi and oomycetes), the composition of which profoundly influences plant health. Maintaining a microbial equilibrium in their roots is very important for plants to remain healthy, however, the means by which this is achieved by plants is still largely unknown. Now, in a new study published in PNAS, Stéphane Hacquard and his colleagues from the Department of Plant-Microbe Interactions at the MPIPZ in Cologne, Germany, shed light on the host and microbial factors that are required to maintain a beneficial relationship between plant roots and their diverse microbial partners.

To tackle this research question, the first author of the study Katarzyna W. Wolinska used a complex microbial community comprising 183 bacteria (B), 25 fungi (F), and 6 oomycetes (O) that were isolated from roots of healthy Arabidopsis thaliana (Thale Cress) plants. She observed that this complex BFO community was beneficial for plant growth compared to sterile control plants grown in the absence of microbes. The authors then hypothesized that inactivation of specific components of the plant innate immune system — the system responsible for tackling pathogen infection — would result in an altered microbial equilibrium in roots, thereby affecting plant health. Consistent with this hypothesis, the beneficial BFO community was no longer beneficial in several of the immunocompromised mutant plants. In particular, inactivation of two plant host genes involved in tryptophan-derived specialized antimicrobials was sufficient to turn the beneficial BFO community into a detrimental community that negatively affected plant performance. The scientists then examined the presence of abnormal microbial signatures in the roots of these immunocompromised plants and found that the major factor that could explain growth differences across plants was the fungal load in their roots. This observation led to the conclusion that the fungal burden observed in the plant roots, in the absence of an intact immune system, was likely the primary cause explaining the shift from a healthy to an unhealthy state.

To further explore whether the presence of fungi in the plant root microbial community was indeed the direct cause of disease observed in the plants, K. W. Wolinska used the B, F, and O communities separately or in various combinations (BO, FO, BF, BFO) and observed that the presence of the fungi was indeed necessary to induce the unhealthy state of the plants. These results indicate that the production of specialized anti-fungal molecules from the host plant during tryptophan metabolism is key to maintain a healthy fungal equilibrium in plant roots. Interestingly, these anti-fungal molecules appeared to be insufficient in fully protecting plants from fungi in the absence of bacteria, even in the presence of a fully intact immune system.

According to the head of the study, Stéphane Hacquard, “Our results illustrate how host- and bacterium-encoded functions act in concert to maintain fungi in check in Arabidopsis roots, thereby promoting plant health and maintaining growth-promoting activities of multi-kingdom microbial communities. The observation that the protective activity of the bacterial community is as important as the host innate immune branch involving tryptophan-derived specialized metabolites for controlling fungi is remarkable. It indicates that the plant immune system is insufficient to fully protect plants from fungal burden, and that bacterial partners residing in roots provide an additional layer of protection, which is needed for plant survival.”

These findings have important applications for promoting plant health and turning potentially harmful fungi into beneficial isolates. By applying the knowledge gained in this study it would now be conceivable to design mixed bacterial-fungal synthetic communities that are expected to provide great fitness benefits to the host.


Story Source:

Materials provided by Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding ResearchNote: Content may be edited for style and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Katarzyna W. Wolinska, Nathan Vannier, Thorsten Thiergart, Brigitte Pickel, Sjoerd Gremmen, Anna Piasecka, Mariola Piślewska-Bednarek, Ryohei Thomas Nakano, Youssef Belkhadir, Paweł Bednarek, Stéphane Hacquard. Tryptophan metabolism and bacterial commensals prevent fungal dysbiosis in Arabidopsis rootsProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2021; 118 (49): e2111521118 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2111521118

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USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s Identification Technology Program (ITP) is pleased to announce the release of the third edition of Exotic Bee ID. This tool focuses on bee families and genera that include non-native bee species that have already been introduced, or have the high potential to invade, the U.S. Exotic Bee ID is aimed primarily at individuals working at ports of entry, state departments of agriculture, or with university extension services, and non-experts with an interest in learning features that are important in the identification of native and non-native bees. The website includes fact sheets, illustrated interactive keys, a filterable image gallery, a specimen preparation guide, and much more. The third edition adds keys, fact sheets, and images for subgenera of Ceratina and Megachile.

Please find the attached PDF announcement to see an overview of ITP’s newest identification tool for PPQ and its partners. Please also feel free to forward this email or the attachment to your colleagues.

Exotic Bee ID can be accessed at: https://idtools.org/id/bees/exotic/.

Visit our website to learn more about ITP’s tools and mobile apps.

Interested in assisting ITP with tool development by being a beta reviewer for an upcoming ITP tool? We are seeking to increase our pool of beta reviewers for a variety of pest groups. Beta reviewers can be experts or non-specialists. Please contact us at itp@usda.gov.

If you did not receive this email directly from ITP, and you would like to be included in future ITP announcement emails, please send a request to itp@usda.gov.

Cheers,

Amanda

Amanda Redford

Biological Scientist | Identification Technology Program (ITP)

USDA APHIS PPQ Science & Technology (S&T)

2301 Research Blvd, Suite 108 | Fort Collins, CO 80526 | p 970-490-4477

amanda.j.redford@usda.gov | https://idtools.org

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The Swaddle

Fungus That Seduces Male Flies to Have Sex With Dead Females Could Be Used as Insecticide

By Devrupa Rakshit

Nov 4, 2021

Image Credit: Fillipo Castelucci

Under the influence of aphrodisiac-like chemicals, male flies are having sex with corpses of female flies. Who’s responsible for Romilda Vane-ing them with the “love potions,” you ask? Well, it’s a fungus that is driven by its agenda to lure as many flies to their death as possible.

“If you see a dead housefly on a windowsill surrounded by a ghostly halo of tiny white spores, it’s a death trap,” Science reported, explaining that “the [dead] insect was invaded by a fungus that took over its brain, manipulating the fly to find the highest perch it could. From there, the fungus launched its spores into the air to infect as many healthy flies as possible.” 

Additionally, of course, they lure male flies to mate with the infected cadavers. In fact, this serves a dual purpose: first, the males who come into close contact with the corpses while mating get infected; second, the “vigorous mating” releases a cloud of spores to infect other unsuspecting hosts.

This “death trap,” grim as it might sound for the naive males who just wanted to get laid, can advance research into the usage of insect-killing fungi. In the past, this fungus — Entomophthora muscae — has already been studied as a potential biological control agent due to its ability to fatally infect house flies. The present study has added further backing to that potential.


Related on The Swaddle:

Male Praying Mantises Have Evolved to Escape Sexual Cannibalism By Female Partners


The prospect of a fungus doubling up as an insecticide is indeed fascinating — especially so, since chemical-based pesticides and insecticides not only contaminate the environment, but can also be toxic to animals consuming the plants treated with chemicals. Not just that, they can also harm the human nervous system, endocrine system, and reproductive system.

Just this August, researchers had discovered a wild tobacco plant, too, that could potentially serve as a natural insecticide since it was found to trap and kill insects. With E. muscae, we now have yet another contender for natural insecticides.

Authored by scientists from Denmark and Sweden, the present study found that healthy male flies were about five times as likely to try to mate when the female’s life had been claimed by the fungus E. muscae.

“It’s almost like an aphrodisiac, maybe driving [male houseflies’] sexual behaviors to a supernormal level,” explained lead author Andreas Naundrup, whose research at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark focuses on organismal biology.


Related on The Swaddle:

A Species of Ants Have the Ability to Shrink, Regrow Their Brains: Study Partners


The researchers believe “a grassy, somewhat sweet smell” of the fungus was “part of the appeal.” Moreover, the female flies infected with the fungus were found to contain a lot more methyl-branched alkanes than healthy flies. The longer a fly had been infected, the more the chemicals. And these chemicals are, reportedly, known to stimulate male house flies to mate.

Naundrup told the reporters that dead houseflies, perched with their wings spread, can actually be spotted both indoors and outdoors — making it possible for us to actually watch this Fatal Attraction-esque mating unfold. “If people are interested in this, my advice would be to stop and — I wouldn’t say smell the flowers — but stop and watch the flies,” he advised.

His team admitted to being amazed by the ability of the E. muscae to manipulate and exploit the sexual desires of its hosts. “I’m really impressed and amazed by the extent of the adaptation it shows,” said Henrik de Fine Licht, an evolutionary ecologist at the University of Copenhagen, who co-authored the study.

Carolyn Elya, a molecular biologist at Harvard University, who wasn’t involved in this study, called its findings a “big step forward” towards finding a natural way to deal with houseflies.

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The lost generation of ancient treesShare using EmailShare on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Linkedin(Image credit: Alamy)

Ancient trees form intricate habitats for an array of other species, from fungi to birds (Credit: Alamy)

By Katherine Latham8th September 2021Inside some of our most magnificent trees, miniature worlds are at risk of extinction. The race is on to accelerate trees’ ageing process, so these intricate communities aren’t lost forever.A

At around 1,100 years old, and almost 11m (36ft) in girth, the Big Belly Oak is the oldest tree in Savernake Forest in south-west England. A tiny sapling at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, Big Belly Oak has lived through the War of the Roses, the Black Death, the English Civil War, the Industrial Revolution and two world wars. Now gnarled and knobbly, Big Belly Oak’s trunk is strapped up with a metal girdle to keep it from falling apart.

While an ancient tree like this is impressive at a distance, take a look inside and you will see something even more intriguing.

Oak polypore fungi and stag beetle larvae feast on the dead heartwood, adult stag beetles sup the sugary liquid from the “sap runs”, the living layers of wood which transport water and minerals throughout the tree. Hover flies lay eggs in water-filled rot holes, rat-tailed maggots devour leaf litter and violet click beetles eat up wood mould that is rich with faeces and other remains, accumulating over a century. Knothole moss and pox lichen cling to the bark in rainwater channels. Barbastelle bats hibernate in crevices and under loose bark. Woodpeckers and nuthatch enlarge holes for nesting, while owls, kestrels, marsh tit and tree-creeper move in to ready-made cavities.ADVERTISEMENT

These rich pockets of life are a secret world, a diverse habitat teeming with insects, fungi, lichen, birds and bats. The ancients of our forests provide essential food and shelter for more than 2,000 of the UK’s invertebrates speciesIn Savernake Forest alone, these trees are home to nearly 120 species of lichen, more than 500 species of fungi, and other important wildlife such as the elusive white-letter hairstreak butterflies.

We face losing these micro-worlds as, one by one, the ancient trees of today are dying and there are not enough ready to replace them.

The ancients of Savernake Forest are something of an anomaly in the wider landscape. A thousand years ago, Savernake was wood-pasture grazed with livestock. Then from the 12th Century it was a royal hunting forest with woodland, coppice, common land and small farms. In the 20th Century, that picture changed dramatically. Worldwide over a third of primary forests – ones that have been undisturbed by humans for over 140 years – were cut down between 1900 and 2015. The loss is attributed to land-use change like the creation of farms or housing developments, and tree harvesting for wood. In Britain, although the canopy cover grew throughout the 20th Century, most of this new growth was down to planting new saplings – the country has lost almost half of its ancient woodland since the 1930s.In a tree's old age, it will often hollow out to provide a unique niche for certain fungi, insects, birds and mammals (Credit: Matt Wainhouse)

In a tree’s old age, it will often hollow out to provide a unique niche for certain fungi, insects, birds and mammals (Credit: Matt Wainhouse)

The way we manage forests has changed, explains Paul Rutter, woodland advisor for Plantlife and project officer at Ancients of the Future, a collaboration between conservation charities BuglifePlantlife, and the Bat Conservation Trust. The intensification of agriculture has meant the removal of many hedgerows and trees that grow within them, as fields have been made larger. Traditional forest management practices have largely been replaced by plantation forestry and whole-tree extraction. Ancient trees are becoming smothered by overcrowded canopies, saplings, shrubs and brambles. Many have been felled for timber or urban development. Add to that an increase in tree diseases and the challenges of climate change. The result is that fewer trees are surviving – or being allowed to grow – into their old age.

Which means that the race to old age is on. The Ancients of the Future has an unusual aim: to speed up the ageing process for some trees to ensure these habitats don’t disappear for good.

Tree time

“In the tree world everything happens slowly,” says Rutter. “We call it tree time.”

Trees reach their ancient (or senescent) phase of life at different ages. For beech this is from 225 years old, oaks from 400 years and yew 900 years. During this phase the trunk hollows, holes and cavities appear and deadwood reaches above the living canopy.

It can take up to 300 years before heart-rot, the decay at the centre of an ageing tree, is established enough that insects can start moving in and laying their larvae, says Rutter. “It becomes a complex ecosystem. The ancient trees that we have today, ones that are 300-900 years old – perhaps older – support an incredibly wide range of species.”Doing controlled damage to a young tree could help it become a thriving home for more wildlife (Credit: Matt Wainhouse)

Doing controlled damage to a young tree could help it become a thriving home for more wildlife (Credit: Matt Wainhouse)

Take oaks, which can live for more than 1,000 years and grow to more than 10m (32ft) in girth. A recent study found that oaks native to Great Britain support 2,300 other species, of which 326 are completely dependent on them. The flower and leaf buds are eaten by caterpillars of purple hairstreak butterflies and holes provide nesting spots for the pied flycatcherredstart and marsh tit.

In autumn, mammals like squirrels, badgers and deer feed on the acorns. The leaves fall to the ground and form a rich leaf mould where invertebrates including stag beetles and fungi such as the oakbug milkcap thrive. The resident insects, in turn, are a vital food source for many birds and bats.

Alice Parfitt, conservation officer at Buglife and Ancients of the Future project officer, says: “Invertebrates that rely on these habitats provide all sorts of services such as pollination or processing the decay of materials. The really rare invertebrates that we’re looking at in this project – we don’t know what they do. We don’t know enough about them.”

Stephanie Skipp, a PhD student at University of East London, is investigating beetles that live in decaying wood. “Beetles perform an overwhelming number of services throughout different ecosystems,” she says, “and the presence of deadwood beetles is vital for maintaining woodland health.”

Many deadwood beetle species recycle the nutrients of woodlands. Working alongside fungi, bacteria and other invertebrates, they break down dead wood and return the nutrients back to the soil. Some deadwood beetles are predators or parasitoids (insects whose larvae live as parasites) to other insect species and restrict population growth of potential pests. Others have recently been found to be pollinators.With fewer trees ready to replace today's veterans, the unique habitats they provide are at risk of being lost (Credit: Alex Hyde)

With fewer trees ready to replace today’s veterans, the unique habitats they provide are at risk of being lost (Credit: Alex Hyde)

“With current trends towards general invertebrate decline, we need to support as many pollinators as possible,” says Skipp.

Fast forward

“For centuries, trees have been pollarded – cut and allowed to regrow. This encourages new growth and was used to produce fodder for livestock and timber,” says Rutter. “The trees grew hollow inside and we’ve now found that they are rich habitats for some very demanding species of beetle and other insects. Veteranisation is based on this idea.”

Veteranisation is the practice of damaging younger trees in order to initiate decay sooner than it would occur naturally. The hope is that habitats usually seen in older trees will begin to develop much earlier. Veteranisation is not new, explains Rutter, but it is not well documented. Only recently has research been initiated to monitor the success of veteranisation techniques.

An international trial, started in 2012 and set over 20 sites in Sweden, England and Norway, is in the process of evaluating the veteranisation of almost 1,000 oak trees. The methods applied include creating woodpecker-like holes, breaking or ringbarking lower branches or the trunk to mimic damage from animals such as deer or horses, and creating nest boxes for birds and bats. The project is planned to take 25 years, until 2037, so the results have yet to be fully analysed.

“The signs are very promising,” said Rutter. “Most of the trees are responding well, healing and continuing to grow. Birds, bats and insects have all been found living in the artificially created niches.”When a tree is artificially hollowed out, it can heal around the cut to imitate the hollowing that often happens naturally with age (Credit: Alex Hyde)

When a tree is artificially hollowed out, it can heal around the cut to imitate the hollowing that often happens naturally with age (Credit: Alex Hyde)

Back in the UK, Ancients of the Future has been trialling these same methods on beech and oak trees. Rutter says, after two years, cavities are starting to appear. “Normally, you’d have to wait for a lightning strike or a limb falling off for the decaying process to start. That can take hundreds of years. These are vigorous, young trees and niches are already beginning to develop.”

The violet click beetle, present at just three sites in the UK, is the main target of Skipp’s study. They require wet wood mould at the base of beech trees. Skipp has been installing beetle boxes for them – wooden structures designed to mimic hollows that form at the base of ancient trees. The boxes have an entrance at ground level and are filled with decaying wood, similar to the nutrient-rich wood mould that you might find naturally.

“This beetle requires high-quality habitats,” she says. “So by protecting it, you are conserving important features that benefit a whole suite of other species too.”

Beyond their usefulness, says Skipp, deadwood beetles exhibit some fascinating diversity. Some have evolved flat bodies, allowing them to live in the ultra-thin cracks behind tree bark. Others are perfectly cylindrical, so they can create and pass through complex tunnels in the wood “like a tube train trundling through the London Underground”. 

Parfitt adds: “Invertebrates need deadwood in different tree species and in different forms. So, it’s important to veteranise the trees in different ways.”

To that end, scientists have been exploring another method. It is thought that inoculating young trees with fungi could accelerate the ageing process even more.

Mysterious fungi 

I bat a mosquito away as it homes in on my flesh. “Mosquitos love me,” I say. Lynne Boddy, professor of fungal ecology at Cardiff University who is guiding me through the ancient woods of the Wye Valley, tells me it is because I give off the same scent as fungi, which do it to attract insects. Perhaps we have more in common with fungi than we realise.

Neither plant nor animal, fungi are in a class of their own. They are found in all parts of the world and  but, still, we know relatively little about them. As of today, 148,000 species have been identified but scientists believe that more than 90% of species remain unknown.Sometimes the only way to be sure the right fungi will occupy a tree is to put them there (Credit: Matt Wainhouse)

Sometimes the only way to be sure the right fungi will occupy a tree is to put them there (Credit: Matt Wainhouse)

We do know, however, that they play a vital role in our ecosystems. Fungi decompose dead material into the building blocks of new soil. Fungi can also break down living material too – including trees. Fungi are the main drivers of wood decay, and a crucial resource for many invertebrates is a living tree with columns of fungal decay in the heartwood.

Heart-rot fungi only move in when trees are mature, feeding on the dead wood at the centre of an ancient tree. When holes begin to form, the wood softens then insects and other species such as woodpeckers are able to excavate it further. Over time, a hollow forms and the cavity floor is lined with wood mould, a rich soil-like mulch.

“Heart-rot species are key,” says Rutter. “These fungi are able to break down the lignin, the very hard part of the wood which is normally incredibly indigestible. Many heart-rot fungi happily eat the central dead wood without harming the living tissue on the outside – and can co-exist with a tree for 600 or 700 years. We want a tree to live a long time so the habitats can continue for as long as possible.”

To try and mimic this process in younger trees, Ancients of the Future is growing heart-rot fungi on blocks of wood in the lab, inserting the blocks into holes cut in young trees and recovering them with bark. They are left that way for a few years, then the blocks are removed to see if the fungi have taken hold inside the tree.

The project is not the first to try this technique – fungi inoculation has been trialled before in North America where researchers found that fungal inoculation could reduce decay time from 100 years to just three when used in combination with traditional methods.

Boddy explains why this new method of veteranisation may work better than previous methods: “We’re putting the fungi we want where we want it, rather than just hoping it turns up.”

She explains that the hollowing of ancient trees by fungal decay, previously seen as detrimental, is a natural part of the ageing process and can even prolong the lives of trees, feeding them nutrients from the inside.

Boddy’s team has been using a new, minimally damaging DNA sampling technique to analyse the inoculated wood. It means the researchers are able to take a much smaller sample from the tree and get much more detailed information.

“Fungi are all around us,” says Boddy. “Inside every tree trunk, every leaf, every stem, every bit of plant that’s decaying on the floor, in the soil beneath our feet. But we can’t see them which makes studying them very difficult. Now that we can extract DNA we can see exactly what’s there.”Finding out if today's veteranisation experiments will work will take some time – as most things do when it comes to trees (Credit: Matt Wainhouse)

Finding out if today’s veteranisation experiments will work will take some time – as most things do when it comes to trees (Credit: Matt Wainhouse)

Boddy is optimistic that fungal inoculation could help speed up the ageing process, and that it’s possible to bridge the gap between the ancient trees of today and those of the future. But it’s still too soon to tell. Variables such as tree and fungus species, and climate change will have an impact. And we still know very little about heart-rot – how fungi get inside a tree in the first place, how their communities change over time or how that affects decay.

These efforts are also a temporary fix. So, what can we do differently to ensure we never see a generational gap like this again? The Ancient Tree Forum offers land owners advice on how to care for their ancient trees – putting up barriers to protect them from livestock, clearing nearby vegetation that is competing for light, creating a root protection zone and propping up heavy limbs or bracing ageing trunks.

The Woodland Trust calls for full legal protection for all ancient trees to prevent further loss, and enforcement of government urban development policies that prevent encroachment on ancient woodlands. Such woodlands could be identified through inventories and more research done into the buffers necessary to protect ancient woodlands from nearby development sites.

In the context of the global biodiversity crisis, with many species in sharp decline, the intricate worlds inside ancient trees might seem like a small piece of the puzzle. But without the unique habitats provided by ancient trees, the health of the wider forest ecosystem – from fungi to butterflies – could be compromised.

“We need to think beyond our own lifetimes and look after the trees we’ve got now, to give them a chance to grow into ancients,” says Rutter. “Trees are fragile, complex chemical factories and major hubs for biodiversity. Without them, many species won’t survive.”

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Birds learn to avoid plants that host dangerous insects: study

by University of Bristol

Birds learn to avoid plants that host dangerous insects, researchers have found
Cinnabar larvae feeding on ragwort. Credit: Callum McLellan

Young birds that eat insects with conspicuous warning colouration to advertise their toxicity to would-be predators quickly learn to avoid other prey that carry the same markings. Developing on this understanding, a University of Bristol team have shown for the very first time that birds don’t just learn the colors of dangerous prey, they can also learn the appearance of the plants such insects live on.

To do this, the scientists exposed artificial cinnabar caterpillars, characterized by bright yellow and black stripes, and non-signaling fake caterpillar targets to wild avian predation by presenting them on ragwort and a non-toxic plant—bramble, which is not a natural host of the cinnabar. Both target types survived better on ragwort compared to bramble when experienced predators were abundant in the population.

They were also interested in whether birds use the bright yellow flowers of ragwort as a cue for avoidance. They tested this by removing spikes of flowers from the ragwort and pinning them onto bramble, then recording target survival on either plant. In this second experiment, only the non-signaling targets survived better on plants with ragwort flowers, compared to the same plant type without the flowers. The survival of the cinnabar-like target was equal across all plant treatments

Lead author Callum McLellan, a graduate student at the School of Biological Sciences, said “Cinnabar caterpillars have this really recognizable, stripey yellow and black appearance. They also only live and feed on ragwort, which itself has distinctive yellow flowers. We have shown that birds learn that the ragwort flowers are a cue for danger, so can avoid going anywhere near toxic prey. It’s more efficient to avoid the whole plant than make decisions about individual caterpillars.”

Birds learn to avoid plants that host dangerous insects, researchers have found
Ragwort. Credit: Callum McLellan

Co-author Prof Nick Scott-Samuel of the School of Psychological Science, said “Our findings suggest that insect herbivores that specialize on easily recognizable host plants gain enhanced protection from predation, independent of their warning signal alone.”

Prof Innes Cuthill, who conceived the study, added “Interestingly, any camouflaged caterpillars living on the same plant also benefit from birds‘ learnt wariness of ragwort, despite being perfectly good to eat.

Birds learn to avoid plants that host dangerous insects, researchers have found
An adult cinnabar moth on a ragwort stem. Credit: Callum McLellan

“Our results provide the opening to a brand-new discussion on how toxicity initially evolved in insect prey, and the conditions under which warning colouration is, or is not, favored.”

The study “Birds learn to avoid aposematic prey by using the appearance of host plants” is published in Current Biology .


Explore furtherEvolutionary change in protective plant odors help flora evade invasive species over time


More information: Birds learn to avoid aposematic prey by using the appearance of host plants, Current Biology (2021).Journal information:Current BiologyProvided by University of Bristol

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“Insect Apocalypse” – Study Reveals Drastic Decline of Aquatic Insect Population in Paraná River Basin

TOPICS:Agência FAPESPEcologyEntomologyInsect

By FAPESP SEPTEMBER 30, 2021

Analysis of data collected over 20 years suggests the decline is due to the construction of over 180 dams (dragonfly emerging from aquatic naiad state). Credit: Alexandre Castagna/Wikimedia Commons

Analysis of data collected over 20 years suggests the decline is due to the construction of over 180 dams on the Paraná basin and its tributaries.

Research conducted in Brazil for more than 20 years in the Paraná River basin shows a drastic fall in the number of aquatic insects in the region, which is considered well-preserved and distant from the negative impacts of agriculture, cattle breeding, and urbanization.

The fieldwork was done by researchers affiliated with the State University of Maringá’s Center for Research in Limnology, Ichthyology and Aquaculture (NUPELIA-UEM). The data was systematized by Gustavo Romero, a professor at the University of Campinas’s Institute of Biology (IB-UNICAMP). An article on the study is published in a special issue on insect decline of Biology Letters, a journal of the UK’s Royal Society.

“Our study analyzed data collected on a seasonal basis over a 20-year period. We detected a decline from thousands to tens of individuals per square meter,” Romero told Agência FAPESP.

A commentary on the study by one member of the team is published in The Conversation.  

The drastic decline in insect populations is a global phenomenon, Romero said, and studies have shown its correlation with human activities. A meta-analysis published in Science pointed to a fall in the number of terrestrial insects but claimed to have detected a rise in the abundance of aquatic insects. This article has since been contested by critics who argue that its authors based their conclusions on too small a sample, with only 7% of the insect datasets in their analysis coming from the tropics and the rest almost exclusively from the United States and Europe.

Romero et al. studied a floodplain with an area of 40 square kilometers containing rivers, shallow lakes, channels and backwaters. The main cause of the decline in insect populations there was the construction of over 180 dams along the Paraná and its tributaries, which form one of South America’s largest freshwater systems, draining much of the central and southern portion of the continent.

The study was supported by FAPESP via two grants awarded to Romero, and a postdoctoral fellowship awarded to Pablo Antiqueira, also a co-author of the published article. The study was conducted under the aegis of the FAPESP Research Program on Biodiversity Characterization, Conservation, Restoration and Sustainable Use (BIOTA-FAPESP) and the FAPESP Research Program on Global Climate Change (RPGCC). 

“A sharp decline was observed not only in more susceptible species but in all aquatic insect orders and families that live in the area. These insects inhabit freshwater environments until they reach adulthood when they migrate to terrestrial environments. This includes dragonflies and water beetles, to mention only the most well-known,” Romero said.

Because some insects transmit diseases (e.g. Aedes aegypti, which transmits dengue, zika, and yellow fever), many people wrongly think all insects are harmful to humans. “The insects that are being decimated in the Paraná River basin are extremely useful. They provide many ecosystem services, including pollination, biological control of crop pests and disease-transmitting insects, decomposition of organic matter, and nutrient cycling,” Romero said. 

Consequence of dams

Dams have impacts of three kinds, Romero continued. First, they make the water much clearer because particles in suspension settle on the reservoir bed before the flow enters the spillway. Deprived of their murky water camouflage, the insects that live downstream of the dam are even more vulnerable to being eaten by fish.

Second, the exotic fish species introduced into dam reservoirs to promote sport fishing, such as the peacock bass (tucunaré) brought from the Amazon, are omnivores and eat insects as well as native fish.

The third type of impact detected was a chemical imbalance of the nutrients in the water, changing the proportions of nitrogen and phosphorus. “The algae that proliferate in dam reservoirs fix nitrogen from the atmosphere and transfer it to the water. Part of the phosphorus is deposited on the reservoir bed. The water that flows through the dam spillway is poor in phosphorus and proportionally richer in nitrogen as a result. This changes its nutritional quality, affecting the animals that depend on a balanced quantity of these nutrients,” Romero explained.

The Paraná River basin touches seven Brazilian states. Technically it is a sub-basin and, alongside the Paraguay and Uruguay River sub-basins, part of the Plata River system, one of South America’s three main basins. The other two are the Amazon and São Francisco River basins. Changes occurring in the ecosystems of the Paraná River sub-basin are therefore highly significant for the continent as a whole, and the decline in aquatic insect populations shows how human activities affect it even without taking into account the use of pesticides and sewage disposal into its rivers and lakes.

The world has some 5.5 million insect species, 80% of which have yet to be described by science. This huge animal population, the most numerous on the planet, is rapidly being reduced by human activities, characterizing what some researchers are already calling the “insect apocalypse.”

Reference: “Pervasive decline of subtropical aquatic insects over 20 years driven by water transparency, non-native fish and stoichiometric imbalance” by Gustavo Q. Romero, Dieison A. Moi, Liam N. Nash, Pablo A. P. Antiqueira, Roger P. Mormul and Pavel Kratina, 9 June 2021, Biology Letters.
DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2021.0137

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SEPTEMBER 29, 2021

Bacteria stunt with established plant-soil feedback theory

by Leiden University

Bacteria stunt with established plant-soil feedback theory
Credit: Leiden University

“What I find most alluring about soil life is that you can steer it,” researcher Martijn Bezemer of the Institute Biology Leiden (IBL) reveals. “You can ask: What do you want? And then I can transform the soil into something you need. At least, that is what we thought.”

For years, Bezemer studied the interaction between plants and the soil microbiome: The bacteria and fungi living in the soil. “This microbiome and the plants affect each other, by the chemicals they release, for instance. We call that plant-soil feedback,” the researcher explains.

It works as follows: when plant A is put in the soil, its surrounding soil changes. “In this way, you create a soil typical for plant A, thus soil A, with a matching microbiome,” Bezemer says. But when plant A is replaced by plant B, the microbiome in the soil will slowly change into that belonging to plant B. “You can keep changing the soil, even with plant C, D or E. In this way, you could create desired microbiomes so that e.g. certain crops that you then plant in the soil can grow even better.”

“However, it is remarkable that even though researchers are very fond of studying these plant-soil feedbacks and in steering soils, but that this has not yet been tested empirically so far. Therefore, in fact, it is just an assumption,” Bezemer states. “In this latest study, we did test this theory.” For a year, he and his team, a collaboration between the IBL and the Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW), grew six grassland species outdoors in large containers and regularly tested the microbiome’s composition in the soil for each of those species.

Sensitive bacteria

After a period of three to four months of plant growth, the fungi in the soil reach an established composition. This was in line with the plant-soil feedback theory. Yet, even after a year, this was not the case for the bacteria in the soil.

Bezemer: “If you would measure today, you would see different bacteria in the soil than a few weeks earlier. That was quite the surprise.” Still, there is an explanation for this result. “Bacteria are very sensitive to factors like moisture and temperature, after all.”

From soil A to B?

In the second part of the study, the team went a step further. “This was the real feedback phase. Each of the large containers, where until then only plants of one species was grown, was divided into six parts. As an example, in a container with plant A and soil A, we now wanted to test the effect of regrowing plant A, ánd the effect of planting B to F on soil A,” the researcher explains.

That was an enormous task. “Make no mistake, as we had five containers for each plant species to start. So with six plant species, we had thirty measuring points for a year already. Now, we multiplied that with six: 180 points, tested for six months by a team of seven people to look at which DNA we could find. And thereafter, Emilia Hannula, the first author of the article, got to analyze this enormous database.”

Hannula adds: “You rarely get the chance to study soil microbes in this amount of detail to detect patterns and answer important questions,” she says. “There are global studies out there with less data than we analyzed here for one soil, only changing the combination of plants growing now and earlier in it.”

The setup should answer two questions. Will the soil change with the presence of the new plants? And will the effect of the previous plant, the so-called soil legacy, still be visible? After six months, legacies of the first plant were still visible, but only for fungi. However, the footprint of the new plant on the soil fungi had also already well established. None of this was the case for bacteria and it appeared that bacteria in the soil are largely irresponsive to the plants that grow in the soil.

Twist in the roots

However, there is a twist in this story. “We also looked at the microbiome in the roots of all plants grown in all the different soils. We call these microbes inside the plant endophytes,” Bezemer says. “It turned out that even though bacteria belonging to the first plant were long gone in the soil, they still could be detected in the roots of the second plant! In the root of plant B, we found bacteria of soil A. Well, that ís interesting,” he stated enthusiastically.

These endophytes can greatly influence plant growth, and this means that a plant can have a long-lasting effect on another later growing plant even when the legacy of the first plant in the soil has already faded away.

Bezemer suspects that the bacteria and fungi, right after planting the second plant species in the soil, have entered the roots through small cuts caused by planting. In the root, there is a safer and more constant environment, in which both fungi and bacteria can endure and these endophytes remained present inside the plants. To the surprise of the researcher. “The bacterial soil legacy of the first plant is preserved, albeit in the roots of the second plant and not in the soil. That is something we had never thought of before. They are still there!”


Explore furtherPredicting plant-soil feedbacks from plant traits


More information: S. Emilia Hannula et al, Persistence of plant-mediated microbial soil legacy effects in soil and inside roots, Nature Communications (2021). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-021-25971-zJournal information:Nature CommunicationsProvided by Leiden University

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Aquatic insects are sensitive to light pollution

by Forschungsverbund Berlin e.V. (FVB)

Aquatic insects are sensitive to light pollution
People like to settle near waters—so freshwater systems are strongly affected by light pollution. Credit: Markus Venohr

Light pollution—too much artificial light in the wrong place at the wrong time is one reason for the decline in insect numbers worldwide. New research from the Leibniz Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries (IGB) shows that current strategies for reducing the impact of light pollution do not go far enough in protecting aquatic insect species.

Most people are familiar with the sight of insects swarming around a streetlight at night. This well-known phenomenon shows one of the most severe ecological effects of artificial light at night—disruption of nocturnal insect location and behavior. Such is the attraction of artificial light to nocturnal insects, that the light acts like a “vaccuum cleaner,” drawing insects away from their regular habitat and out of their usual behavioral cycles. The effect not only disrupts the insects’ behavior and distribution, but has knock-on effects on the ecosystems in which they play a vital part. For example, nocturnal insects play an important role as pollinators. The recent German “Insect Protection Act” (Federal Nature Conservation Act) has anchored the implementation of insect-friendly lighting as a crucial strategy for biodiversity protection.

Insects and larvae are also attracted to light under water

In numerous studies, Dr. Franz Hölker’s team has been able to show the influence of artificial light on flying and ground-dwelling insects. Now the researchers have investigated the effect on aquatic insects and insect larvae. Inland waters are particularly affected by light pollution as the shores of rivers and lakes are often densely built-up and brightly lit at night.

To study the effect, the researchers had to go where it is still really dark at night. In the Westhavelland Star Park near Berlin, they set up underwater traps for insects in water ditches and installed lights at different wavelengths. “In the illuminated water areas we found significantly more insects in the traps than in the unlit ones. This demonstrates that the vacuum cleaner effect of artificial light is felt even under water. Affected insects are impaired in their search for food and mates and become easier prey for predatory species,” Franz Hölker explained the result of the field study.

Land and water insects: Not on the same wavelength

Many flying insects are particularly sensitive to short-wave, blue light and, as such, campaigns to protect insects against light pollution have focussed on reducing blue light wavelengths in streetlamps. However, the researchers found that aquatic insects don’t exhibit this preference, and as such current blue-light mitigation strategies may not be enough. “Most species of aquatic insects seem to be attracted to long-wave light rather than short-wave light,” explained Franz Hölker.

Light conditions in water are not the same as on land. The water body acts like an optical filter, altering the light spectrum and intensity. For example, if there is organic material in the water and it becomes more turbid. Short-wave, blue light in particular is attenuated as the distance from the light source increases.

“For the protection of flying insects, we recommend reducing the blue fraction of the light, but this does not help aquatic insects according to our study. Therefore, it would certainly make sense for lighting at water bodies to focus on alternative conservation measures—for example, to generally avoid direct lighting of water surfaces, and to reduce the intensity and duration of lighting in areas close to water bodies,” Franz Hölker summarized.


Explore furtherWaterside lighting drastically disrupts wildlife in the surrounding ecosystem


More information: Impact of Different Wavelengths of Artificial Light at Night on Phototaxis in Aquatic Insects, Integrative and Comparative Biology, 2021; icab149, doi.org/10.1093/icb/icab149Provided by Forschungsverbund Berlin e.V. (FVB)

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Hoverflies navigate using sun and body clock

Date:September 21, 2021Source: University of Exeter Summary: Hoverflies use a combination of the sun and their body clock to navigate when they fly south for the winter, new research shows.Share:FULL STORY


Hoverflies use a combination of the sun and their body clock to navigate when they fly south for the winter, new research shows.

The insects keep the sun on their left in the morning, then gradually adjust to maintain a southward route as the day goes on.

Pied and yellow-clubbed hoverflies — which are important pollinators — spend their summers in locations such as the UK and Scandinavia, then fly to the Mediterranean and North Africa in autumn.

These migrations are known to happen on sunny days, but the new study — led by the University of Exeter — is the first proof of a “time-compensated sun compass” in hoverflies.

“Simply flying towards the sun would lead them south, but this would create a winding, inefficient route,” said lead author Richard Massy, of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation on Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall.

“Our study shows that hoverflies account for the sun’s movement using their circadian rhythm.

“Other animals, including certain birds and butterflies, are known to have this ability. Our work suggests that it has independently evolved across multiple insects.”

Researchers caught migrating hoverflies at a mountain pass in the Pyrenees.

The insects were placed in a “flight simulator,” which held them in place but allowed them to swivel freely.

The hoverflies could see the sun but not the ground (meaning they could not navigate using landmarks) and the results showed they headed south by adjusting their course based on the sun’s position and the time of day.

This was further tested by placing some hoverflies in an artificial lighting environment for several days to shift their body clocks, then testing their navigation.

With their circadian rhythm disrupted, their direction of flight shifted westward — supporting the conclusion that they navigate using a time-compensated sun compass.

Dr Karl Wotton, of the University of Exeter, said: “Understanding how these insects navigate can help us predict their movements.

“This could be useful for conservation measures, such as limiting the use of pesticides at key migration times.

“Hoverflies are also important predators of crop pests such as aphids, so understanding their migrations could help us use them as natural pest controllers.”

The research team included the University of Bristol, and funding came from the Royal Society and the Natural Environment Research Council’s GW4 Doctoral Training Programme.


Story Source:

Materials provided by University of ExeterNote: Content may be edited for style and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Richard Massy, Will L. S. Hawkes, Toby Doyle, Jolyon Troscianko, Myles H. M. Menz, Nicholas W. Roberts, Jason W. Chapman, Karl R. Wotton. Hoverflies use a time-compensated sun compass to orientate during autumn migrationProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 2021; 288 (1959): 20211805 DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2021.1805

Cite This Page:

University of Exeter. “Hoverflies navigate using sun and body clock.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 September 2021. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/09/210921195801.htm>.

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Oliva released 10,000 predatory insects of the cotonet in 10 hectares of citrus fruits

The Department of Agriculture of Oliva has carried out a controlled release of the Cryptoleamus montrouzieri predatory insect in 10 hectares of citrus fields in the municipality of Oliva to deal with the cotonet pest that is affecting this municipality.

The Councilor for Agriculture, Miquel Doménech, received 10,000 specimens of Cryptoleamus -a voracious and highly effective predator of different pests- to continue with their biological control project, without using insecticides or toxins. The councilor thanked the different groups and agricultural associations that support the project and announced that there will be future releases.

Source: saforguia.com 

Publication date: Wed 29 Sep 2021

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