Community Ecology and Sirex noctilio: Interactions with Microbial Symbionts and Native Insects

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Sirex noctilio is an invasive woodwasp with a global distribution that feeds on the sapwood of pine trees. Wood-feeding in the basal Hymenoptera (sawflies) arose out of sequential adaptations to feeding on nutrient poor and digestively refractive internal plant organs (xylem). Symbiotic association with White-rot fungi are thought to aid overcoming nutritional and digestive barriers, including exceedingly low nitrogen (N) and refractory lignocellulosic polymers. In this dissertation I evaluate wood-feeding relative to nutrition, symbiosis and biotic resistance to invasion of exotic North American habitats in Sirex noctilio [Hymenoptera: Siricidae]. I evaluated nutrient relations within fungal mutualism using: 1) functional morphological analysis of insect feeding, 2) sterol molecules to determine diet sources and 3) metagenomic and isotopic analyses for discovery of novel microbial associates and their associated nutrient pathways. Nutritional constraints of wood feeding are potentially compounded by the presence of diverse fungal and insect communities as they divide the tree resource. I examined the role biotic resistance to Sirex and its fungal mutualist, Amylostereum, in North America using field and laboratory experiments. Morphological evidence supported a role for Amylostereum in external digestion of wood. Observational evidence confirmed Sirex larvae did not ingest wood biomass but preferentially extracted liquid substances via specialized structures of mandibles. Sterol analysis indicated plant compounds as the primary constituent of the diet, while metagenomic analysis of bacteria and their metabolic pathways showed a bacterial microbiome adapted to short chain plant polymers, starch and sugar metabolism. Stable isotopes suggested an additional symbiotic association with nitrogen fixing bacteria enriched the nitrogen deficient food substrate. These studies point toward herbivory with microbial supplementation of nutrients as a tri-partite relationship, pending conclusive identification of the bacterial symbiont for Sirex. Specific constraints of wood feeding by the Sirex-Amylostereum symbiotic complex were antagonized by intraguild predation and fungal competition in North America. Competition interfered with Amylostereum, while intraguild predation accounted for an additional 15% mortality of larval populations. This research describes the evolutionary role of microbial symbionts in wood-feeding in the Hymenoptera and the internal and external constraints to foraging this ubiquitous, yet nutrient poor food resource.