Thecaphora anther-smut fungi : ecology and implications for CFR Oxalis species

Curran, Helen R. (Helen Rae) (2012-03)

Thesis (MSc)--Stellenbosch University, 2012.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Only a limited number of systems involving anther-smut fungi have been studied, usually due to the economic significance of their crop plant hosts. A smut fungus of the genus Thecaphora has been discovered infecting Oxalis hosts in South Africa. This pathogenic fungus, Thecaphora capensis, produces dark-coloured spores in the anthers of host flowers, rendering it an anther-smut fungus. The host genus is the seventh largest plant genus in the Cape Floristic Region (CFR) and the largest geophytic genus of this region. Nine Oxalis species that host T. capensis have been identified across a wide distribution in the CFR of South Africa. A preliminary assessment of T. capensis infections of Oxalis was conducted in 2009, which provided a foundation for further research into the ecological and evolutionary consequences of hosting this fungus. In this study, a comprehensive host diversity assessment was conducted to determine the extent of infected Oxalis individuals within the CFR. Three new Oxalis host species for Thecaphora capensis were discovered. This brings the total number of known hosts to twelve. The morphological and reproductive effects of the fungus were assessed on two host species (O. incarnata and O. lanata) by comparing healthy and infected individuals of these species. Infection by Thecaphora capensis had a significantly negative effect on both of these factors. Host resources appear to be co-opted for fungal spore production, since floral morphological characters of infected individuals were reduced in size. Furthermore, infection by T. capensis ensured near-universal sterility in both hosts. Differences in floral characters and pollinator preferences for healthy Oxalis incarnata and O. lanata individuals from disease-free and diseased populations were compared to determine the evolutionary influence of Thecaphora capensis infections. It was shown that this pathogen can have a significant evolutionary influence on its hosts, showing its ability to shape flower size and pollinator activity in O. lanata, but not in O. incarnata. A need has therefore been identified to assess these evolutionary forces independently for each host and its pathogen before making erroneous assumptions for conservation practices. Plant pollinators play an integral role in plant fitness. Pollinator movements within a population are important when between-flower spore transfer by pollinators increases the likelihood of new infections. Pollinator movements may be influenced by host density and the frequency of diseased individuals, amongst other factors. Pollinators were found to mediate Thecaphora capensis spore transfers within diseased Oxalis populations. Host density and disease frequency affected the number of spores transferred under field and standardized conditions. More research is required to investigate confounding factors in these complex systems. This study highlighted the complexities of a fungal-plant-insect relationship, the evolutionary consequences of such fungal infections and the various factors influencing the likelihood of new infections. This research adds to the limited body of knowledge on multi-organismal interactions in the CFR and provides a base for more detailed future studies on this intriguing system.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: 'n Brandswam, wat deel is van die Thecaphora genus,is ontdek in 'n Oxalis blom waar dit die gasheer plant se blom gebruik om spore in te produseer. Die swam, Thecaphora capensis, produseer donker gekleurde spore in die helmknoppe van die blomme van gasheer plante, daarom word dit geklasifiseer as 'n brandswam van die helmknop. Die gasheer plante van die swam is deel van die genus Oxalis, die sewende grootste plant genus in die Kaapse Floristiese Streek (KFS) en die grootste geofitiese genus in die streek. Nege Oxalis species is al klaar identifiseer as gasheer plante van T. capensis. Hulle is versprei oor 'n groot area van die KFS van Suid Afrika. 'n Primêre ondersoek van T. capensis infeksies op Oxalis is in 2009 onderneem. Hierdie ondersoek het gelei tot meer vrae oor die sisteem en het 'n goeie fondasie geskep vir verdere navorsing rakende die ekologiese koste verbonde daaraan om as gasheer plant vir 'n swam op te tree. 'n Deeglike ondersoek is in die KFS aangepak om die Oxalis gasheer plante van die brand swam te identifiseer en om voort te bou op die basiskennis wat in die primêre ondersoek daargestel is. Drie nuwe Oxalis gasheer plante van Thecaphora capensis is ontdek. Die totale aantal gasheer plante staan nou op twaalf. Gesonde en geinfekteerde individuele gasheer plante is gebruik om die morfologiese en reproduktiewe effekte van die swam te toets in twee Oxalis spesies (O. incarnata en O. lanata). Die negatiewe gevolge om 'n gasheer plant van die brand swam te wees was duidelik toe gesonde en geinfekteerde individuele met mekaar vergelyk is. Dit kom voor asof gasheer plante se hulpbronne vir spoor produksie gebruik word, want hulle is morfologies kleiner en meestal steriel. Die evolusionêre effek van Thecaphora capensis op 'n populasie is getoets met gesonde individuele in populasies van twee Oxalis spesies. Blomkenmerke en insek bestuiwers van gesonde individue in gesonde en geinfekteerde populasies is ondersoek om die effekte van T. capensis op populasies te toets. Daar is suksesvol gedemonstreer dat swamme sterk evolusionêre kragte uitoefen, en die vermoë het om plantpopulasies te vorm en te verander, ofskoon nie in alle gevalle ewe sterk nie. Daarom is dit belangrik om die evolusionêre kragte vir elke gasheer plant en sy patogeen onafhanklik te assesseer, sonder om algemene aannames te maak in bewaringspraktyke. Plantbestuiwers speel 'n belangrike rol in die fiksheid van plante. Hulle kan hul fiksheid verbeter deur bestuiwers te lok met blomme en deur aspekte geassosieer met blomme. Die bewegingspatrone van plantbestuiwers is baie belangrik indien hulle helmknop-geproduseerde spore van brandswamme vervoer instede van stuifmeel, want dit vergroot die kanse vir nuwe infeksies. Die bewegingspatrone van plantbestuiwers word, onder andere, beinvloed deur die digtheid en frekwensie van geinfekteerde individue. Plantbestuiwers speel 'n belangrike rol in die vervoer van Thecaphora capensis spore in geinfekteerde Oxalis populasies. Die digtheid en frekwensie van geinfekteerde blomme het die vervoer van spore geaffekteer onder veld en gestandardiseerde kondisies, alhoewel baie veranderlikes so 'n komplekse natuurlike sisteem beinvloed. Hierdie studie beklemtoon die kompleksiteit van 'n fungus-plant-insek verhouding, die gevolge van so 'n interaksie en die verskeie faktore wat die waarskynlikheid van nuwe infeksies beinvloed. Tot dusver is daar 'n beperkte aantal sisteme soos hierdie bestudeer waarin 'n brandswam van die helmknop betrokke is, en die enkele beskikbare studies is onderneem meestal as gevolg van hulle ekonomiese effekte op landboukundig belangrike gasheer plante. Hierdie studie verteenwoordig 'n belangrike byvoeging tot die inter-organismiese studies in die KFS. 'n Holistiese ekologiese oorsig soos hierdie verskaf 'n belangrike basis vir toekomstige studies en bewarings- en bestuurspraktyke.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/20293
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