Biological Invasions

, Volume 18, Issue 4, pp 1045–1056 | Cite as

Novel and co-evolved associations between insects and microorganisms as drivers of forest pestilence

  • Michael J. Wingfield
  • Jeff R. Garnas
  • Ann Hajek
  • Brett P. Hurley
  • Z. Wilhelm de Beer
  • Stephen J. TaerumEmail author
Insect Invasions


Some of the most devastating diseases of trees involve associations between forest insects and microorganisms. Although a small number of native insect-microorganism symbioses can cause tree mortality, the majority of associations with tree health implications involve one or more exotic organisms. Here, we divide damaging symbioses between forest insects and microorganisms into four categories based on the native/exotic status of the species involved: (1) insect and microorganism are native; (2) insect is native, microorganism is exotic; (3) insect is exotic, microorganism is native; and (4) insect and microorganism are both exotic. For each category, we describe several well-researched examples of forest insect symbioses and discuss some of the consequences of the types of interactions within each category. We then discuss priorities for research on forest insect symbioses that could help to further elucidate patterns in the complexity of such interactions in the context of invasion biology. We argue that a nuanced understanding of insect-pathogen relationships is lacking, even for the few well-studied examples. Because novel associations between insects, microorganisms, and trees are increasing with globalization, such symbioses and their potential to negatively impact forest ecosystems demand focused research in the future.


Insects Microorganisms Pathogens Symbiosis Tree disease 



The paper had its origin at a workshop on “Drivers, impacts, mechanisms and adaptation in insect invasions” hosted by the DST-NRF Centre of Excellence for Invasion Biology in Stellenbosch, South Africa, in November 2014. Additional financial support was provided by HortGro, the National Research Foundation of South Africa, Stellenbosch University, and SubTrop. We are grateful to the members of the Tree Protection Co-operative Programme (TPCP), the National Research Foundation and the THRIP initiative of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), South Africa for providing funding that contributed to research underpinning arguments provided in this review. We thank Prof. Bernard Slippers for useful conversations that contributed to the completion of this paper. We also thank the three anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and suggestions.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael J. Wingfield
    • 1
  • Jeff R. Garnas
    • 2
  • Ann Hajek
    • 3
  • Brett P. Hurley
    • 2
  • Z. Wilhelm de Beer
    • 1
  • Stephen J. Taerum
    • 4
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of Microbiology and Plant Pathology, Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute (FABI)University of PretoriaPretoriaSouth Africa
  2. 2.Department of Zoology and Entomology, Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute (FABI)University of PretoriaPretoriaSouth Africa
  3. 3.Department of EntomologyCornell UniversityIthacaUSA
  4. 4.Department of Genetics, Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute (FABI)University of PretoriaPretoriaSouth Africa

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