The fungus Fusarium circinatum Nirenberg and O'Donnell (Hypocreaceae) causes pitch canker, a disease affecting pines worldwide. In California, many native insect species have been implicated in transmission of F. circinatum. This study showed that two twig beetle species, Pityophthorus setosus Blackman and Pityophthorus carmeli Swaine (Coleoptera: Curculionidae: Corthylini), can make wounds on healthy Monterey pine (Pinus radiata D. Don (Pinaceae)) branches that are suitable for infection by the pitch canker pathogen. Because these two species are not known to engage in maturation feeding and the observed wounds were not associated with tunneling, we hypothesize that the wounds reflect "exploratory tasting" to assess the suitability of the substrate for colonization. This behavior would help to explain how twig beetles can serve as wounding agents on healthy host branches, which are not amenable to colonization by these insects. We tested two specific hypotheses: (1) two native species of Pityophthorus can create wounds on F. circinatum-contaminated trees that are sufficient for development of disease; and (2) the efficiency with which F. circinatum infects beetle wounds is affected by relative humidity. Under growth-chamber conditions, both Pityophthorus species indulged in exploratory behavior that caused wounds suitable for development of pitch canker. Field experiments did not confirm a significant effect of beetle activity on infection frequency, perhaps because of an overall low infection rate due to low temperatures. Experiments conducted under controlled conditions documented a significant effect of relative humidity on the success rate of twig beetle-initiated infections.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Structural Biology
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Molecular Biology
- Insect Science