Thermal ecology shapes disease outcomes of entomopathogenic fungi infecting warm-adapted insects

Slowik, Anna R.; Hesketh, Helen ORCID:; Sait, Steven M.; De Fine Licht, Henrik H.. 2024 Thermal ecology shapes disease outcomes of entomopathogenic fungi infecting warm-adapted insects. Journal of Invertebrate Pathology, 204, 108106. 10, pp.

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The thermal environment is a critical determinant of outcomes in host-pathogen interactions, yet the complexities of this relationship remain underexplored in many ecological systems. We examined the Thermal Mismatch Hypothesis (TMH) by measuring phenotypic variation in individual thermal performance profiles using a model system of two species of entomopathogenic fungi (EPF) that differ in their ecological niche, Metarhizium brunneum and M. flavoviride, and a warm-adapted model host, the mealworm Tenebrio molitor. We conducted experiments across ecologically relevant temperatures to determine the thermal performance curves for growth and virulence, measured as % survival, identify critical thresholds for these measures, and elucidate interactive host-pathogen effects. Both EPF species and the host exhibited a shared growth optima at 28 °C, while the host’s growth response was moderated in sublethal pathogen infections that depended on fungus identity and temperature. However, variances in virulence patterns were different between pathogens. The fungus M. brunneum exhibited a broader optimal temperature range (23–28 °C) for virulence than M. flavoviride, which displayed a multiphasic virulence-temperature relationship with distinct peaks at 18 and 28 °C. Contrary to predictions of the TMH, both EPF displayed peak virulence at the host's optimal temperature (28 °C). The thermal profile for M. brunneum aligned more closely with that of T. molitor than that for M. flavoviride. Moreover, the individual thermal profile of M. flavoviride closely paralleled its virulence thermal profile, whereas the virulence thermal profile of M. brunneum did not track with its individual thermal performance. This suggests an indirect, midrange (23 °C) effect, where M. brunneum virulence exceeded growth. These findings suggest that the evolutionary histories and ecological adaptations of these EPF species have produced distinct thermal niches during the host interaction. This study contributes to our understanding of thermal ecology in host-pathogen interactions, underpinning the ecological and evolutionary factors that shape infection outcomes in entomopathogenic fungi. The study has ecological implications for insect population dynamics in the face of a changing climate, as well as practically for the use of these organisms in biological control.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
UKCEH and CEH Sections/Science Areas: Biodiversity (Science Area 2017-)
ISSN: 0022-2011
Additional Information. Not used in RCUK Gateway to Research.: Open Access paper - full text available via Official URL link.
Additional Keywords: thermal ecology, thermal mismatch hypothesis (TMH), thermal profiles, thermal performance curves, virulence, entomopathogenic fungi (EPF), Tenebrio molitor, Metarhizium
NORA Subject Terms: Ecology and Environment
Date made live: 15 Apr 2024 11:57 +0 (UTC)

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