Pirate-like flies connect symbiosis to diversity

Feb 06, 2013
Gall-inducing flies look miniscule compared to the fungus-filled galls they produce on plants and then feed on.

(Phys.org)—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 and competition.

The Proceedings of the Royal Society 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 .

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 , these flies (Diptera: Cecidomyiidae) are ubiquitous worldwide, with more than 6100 species.

Fly in pupal stage seen feeding on vegetative matter in fungus lining plant gall created by fly

Joy found one group (617 families) of these flies was in a with a called Botryosphaeria. Another, much larger (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 into food inside a gall, a tumour-like structure that the flies cause on the plant.

"The flies are like pirates," explains Joy. "They use the fungi as boats to float across a genomic sea and board a plant that is genetically far removed from what they would otherwise be able to feed on."

The fungus, which is a broad-feeding plant pathogen, allows the flies to feed on a greater variety of plants compared to their non-symbiotic brethren.

"Symbiotic lineages of these flies have undergone a more than seven-fold expansion in the range of plants they can feed on relative to the lineages without such fungal symbionts. Also, one genus of gall-inducing flies utilizing fungal symbionts is 50 per cent more diverse than its brethren without the symbiotic relationship."

Joy is as excited about discovering how symbiosis between flies and advances evolutionary theories as he is about discovering the relationship itself.

"The goal of this work was to test predictions of evolutionary theories of diversification and symbiosis," explains Joy. "The theory I observed in action is that the evolution of symbiosis catalyzes niche expansion—an organism's use of more resources—and diversification—increased species in lineages.

"These findings expand our understanding of how is generated and how processes, such as symbiosis, lead to some remarkable examples of biology, such as the symbiotic mutualism between clownfish and sea anemone."

Explore further: More vets turn to prosthetics to help legless pets

More information: rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/279/1741/3250.full

Related Stories

Breakthrough in plant-fungi relationship

Jul 07, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Massey biologists have uncovered for the first time the complete set of gene messages that define the symbiotic interaction between a fungal endophyte and its grass host.

Rare orchids mimic fungus to attract flies

Apr 27, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- In a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Zong-Xin Ren from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Peter Bernhardt from Saint Louis University discus ...

Recommended for you

More vets turn to prosthetics to help legless pets

1 hour ago

A 9-month-old boxer pup named Duncan barreled down a beach in Oregon, running full tilt on soft sand into YouTube history and showing more than 4 million viewers that he can revel in a good romp despite lacking ...

Chimpanzees prefer firm, stable beds

10 hours ago

Chimpanzees may select a certain type of wood, Ugandan Ironwood, over other options for its firm, stable, and resilient properties to make their bed, according to a study published April 16, 2014 in the open-access ...

Offspring benefit from mum sending the right message

18 hours ago

(Phys.org) —Researchers have uncovered a previously unforeseen interaction between the sexes which reveals that offspring survival is affected by chemical signals emitted from the females' eggs.

User comments : 0

More news stories

More vets turn to prosthetics to help legless pets

A 9-month-old boxer pup named Duncan barreled down a beach in Oregon, running full tilt on soft sand into YouTube history and showing more than 4 million viewers that he can revel in a good romp despite lacking ...

Revealing camouflaged bacteria

A research team at the Biozentrum of the University of Basel has discovered an protein family that plays a central role in the fight against the bacterial pathogen Salmonella within the cells. The so cal ...

New clinical trial launched for advance lung cancer

Cancer Research UK is partnering with pharmaceutical companies AstraZeneca and Pfizer to create a pioneering clinical trial for patients with advanced lung cancer – marking a new era of research into personalised medicines ...

'Chief Yahoo' David Filo returns to board

Yahoo announced the nomination of three new board members, including company co-founder David Filo, who earned the nickname and formal job title of "Chief Yahoo."