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article imagePathogenic fungi help plant biodiversity

By Tim Sandle     Feb 1, 2014 in Environment
Oxford - Rather than being damaging pests, it seems that pathogenic fungi and insect herbivores appear to support plant biodiversity in the world's rainforests.
Although pathogenic fungi and insect herbivores can wreak havoc on individual plants, working in combination they act to promote the survival and diversity of other plants. The reason for this is because the fungi and insects enhance rainforest biodiversity by damaging those species that occur at high density, making room for other plants to grow up in their place.
This argument has been put forward in the journal Nature by a team led by investigators at the University of Oxford . The article in Nature is titled "Pathogens and insect herbivores drive rainforest plant diversity and composition."
For the research, scientists measured diversity of seeds and seedlings from a rainforest in Belize, then tested whether excluding pathogenic fungi and insect herbivores from the same region—by spraying insecticide and fungicide on experimental plots—would decrease diversity. And it did.
Discussing the work lead author Owen Lewis, a community biologist and conservation ecologist at Oxford, told the BBC: "If one species becomes too abundant locally then it tends to get hammered by the pests and diseases, and this then gives rarer species a chance because they tend to be less affected. This acts as a balancing mechanism that prevents these rarer, and perhaps competitively inferior species, from being outcompeted."
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