Mysteries in the mushrooms: First records of fungi-feeding gnat larvae from South America
A team of researchers from Brazil and Canada has found a South American example of interactions between a group of flies and the mushrooms they feed on as larvae. Though this group of flies has more than 1,100 species known from South and Central America, this is the first report of a species from the family being reared from, and associated with, a host fungus from the South America. The study was published in the open access journal Biodiversity Data Journal.
Even with the large amount of recent research on South American biodiversity, there are still large areas of study that remain unexplored. The natural history and diversity of the mushroom eating fauna (i.e., fungivores) in the region falls into this category.
"Unlike in places like Europe, there has been very little exploration of the fungi inhabiting animals of South America" says Chris Borkent, Postdoctoral researcher at the California State Collection of Arthropods, Sacramento, CA.
Mushrooms and other forms of fungi represent a short-lived shifting habitat that must be quickly found and exploited by the organisms that use them. However, we have very little understanding of how these animals find and use the mushrooms, and what the diversity of this miniature ecosystem is.
One important group of fungal feeder are the fungus gnats, a group of ~4500 species of small flies whose larvae infest mushrooms the world over. These larvae serve in turn as the prey for various other animals, as well as hosts for a suite of parasites and parasitoids.
"We were able to successfully rear a species of fungus gnat from two different mushroom species in Brazil" states Sarah Oliveira, Professor at the Departamento de Ecologia, Universidade Federal de Goiás, Goiânia, Brazil.
This also allowed the different life stages to be studied, providing insights into how this species feeds and goes through its metamorphosis.
The dynamics of modern forests are deeply dependent on the life and activity of the fungi and their associated ecosystem.
The future of mushroom ecosystem study in South America is wide open for exploration!