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Fungal infestation boosts fruit aroma and fruit removal by mammals and birds





[EN] For four decades, an influential hypothesis has posited that competition for food resources between microbes and vertebrates selects for microbes to alter these resources in ways that make them unpalatable to vertebrates. We chose an understudied cross kingdom interaction to experimentally evaluate the effect of fruit infection by fungi on both vertebrate (mammals and birds) fruit preferences and on ecologically relevant fruit traits (volatile compounds, toughness, etc). Our well-replicated field experiments revealed that, in contrast to previous studies, frugivorous mammals and birds consistently preferred infested over intact fruits. This was concordant with the higher level of attractive volatiles (esters, ethanol) in infested fruits. This investigation suggests that vertebrate frugivores, fleshy-fruited plants, and microbes form a tripartite interaction in which each part could interact positively with the other two (e.g. both orange seeds and fungal spores are likely dispersed by mammals). Such a mutualistic view of these complex interactions is opposed to the generalized idea of competition between frugivorous vertebrates and microorganisms. Thus, this research provides a new perspective on the widely accepted plant evolutionary dilemma to make fruits attractive to mutualistic frugivores while unattractive to presumed antagonistic microbes that constrain seed dispersal. JMF was funded by a Marie Curie Intraeuropean fellowship (FP7-PEOPLE-2011-IEF-298137) and a Portuguese FCT grant (IF/00728/2013). We sincerely thank Sharon Strauss for wise comments and improvements of clarity and readability on a previous draft. We thank A. Tachibana for allowing us to work at Fazenda Cambuhy Agricola and to his staff for helping to perform our field experiments in Brazil. We thank Fundecitrus for funding and technical support Peris-Rodrigo, JE.; Rodríguez, A.; Peña, L.; Fedriani, JM. (2017). Fungal infestation boosts fruit aroma and fruit removal by mammals and birds. Scientific Reports. 7:1-9. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-05643-z

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