After a year of studying up close the symbiotic relationship between a mosquito-sized bug and a fungus, a Simon Fraser University biologist has advanced the scientific understanding of biological diversity.
Jeffrey Joy has discovered that symbiosis a relationship between two or more organisms that can be parasitic or mutualistic is as much the mother of biological diversity as predation and competition.
The Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B journal has just published the post-doctoral researcher's findings online. They advance Joy's previous doctoral work under SFU biologist Bernard Crespi that led to a paper, in the same journal, about the remarkable diversity of plant feeding insects.
Joy's latest paper is Symbiosis catalyzes niche expansion and diversification.
After comparing the niche and species diversification of two categories of gall-inducing flies, Joy has concluded that prolific diversity can be a hallmark of symbiotic relationships. No bigger than a speck of dust on your fingertip, these flies (Diptera: Cecidomyiidae) are ubiquitous worldwide, with more than 6100 species.
Joy found one group (617 families) of these flies was in a symbiotic relationship with a fungus called Botryosphaeria. Another, much larger control group (2809 families) had no such relationship with the fungus.
Scientists are not yet certain how the fly and fungus came together in the first place. But Joy has discovered that their relationship has evolved at least four different times, since the two first saw symbiosis as opposed to love at first sight.
Flies involved with the fungi have developed the ability to pick up the fungi, store them in biological pockets and deposit them on plants. There, the flies use the fungi to turn plant tissue into food inside a gall, a tumour-like structure that the flies cause on the plant.
"The flies are like pirates," explains Jo
|Contact: Carol Thorbes|
Simon Fraser University