, 53:101 | Cite as

Anthropogenic effects on interaction outcomes: examples from insect-microbial symbioses in forest and savanna ecosystems

  • Diana L. Six
  • Michael Poulsen
  • Allison K. Hansen
  • Michael J. Wingfield
  • Jolanda Roux
  • Paul Eggleton
  • Bernard Slippers
  • Timothy D. Paine


The influence of humans on ecosystem dynamics has been, and continues to be, profound. Anthropogenic effects are expected to amplify as human populations continue to increase. Concern over these effects has given rise to a large number of studies focusing on impacts of human activities on individual species or on biotic community structure and composition. Lacking are studies on interactions, particularly mutualisms. Because of the role of mutualisms in ecosystem stability, such studies are critically needed if we are to begin to better understand and predict the responses of ecosystems to anthropogenic change. Most organisms are involved in at least one mutualism, and many in several. Mutualisms facilitate the ability of partners to exploit particular habitats and resources, and play a large role in determining ecological boundaries. When change disrupts, enhances, or introduces new organisms into a mutualism, the outcome and stability of the original partnership(s) is altered as are effects of the symbiosis on the community and ecosystem as a whole. In this paper, using examples from six microbe-insect mutualisms in forest and savanna settings, we showcase how varied and complex the responses of mutualisms can be to an equally varied set of anthropogenic influences. We also show how alterations of mutualisms may ramify throughout affected systems. We stress that researchers must be cognizant that many observed changes in the behaviors, abundances, and distributions of organisms due to human activities are likely to be mediated by mutualists which may alter predictions and actual outcomes in significant ways.

Key words

Climate change Fragmentation Exotic species Mutualism Scolytinae Attini Macrotermitidae Siricidae Hemiptera 



This paper arose from a symposium on anthropogenic effects on insect-microbial symbioses at the International Congress of Entomology held in Durban, South Africa in 2008. JR, BS, and MJW appreciate the financial support of the Department of Science and Technology/National Research Foundation Centre of Excellence in Tree Health Biotechnology, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa. MP was supported by The Carlsberg Foundation. We appreciate the comments of Ryan Bracewell, Edie Dooley and Tracy Dahl on a previous version of the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Diana L. Six
    • 1
  • Michael Poulsen
    • 2
    • 3
  • Allison K. Hansen
    • 4
  • Michael J. Wingfield
    • 5
  • Jolanda Roux
    • 6
  • Paul Eggleton
    • 7
  • Bernard Slippers
    • 8
  • Timothy D. Paine
    • 9
  1. 1.Department of Ecosystem and Conservation Sciences, College of Forestry and ConservationThe University of MontanaMissoulaUSA
  2. 2.Department of BacteriologyUniversity of WisconsinMadisonUSA
  3. 3.Section for Ecology and EvolutionUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagenDenmark
  4. 4.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, West CampusYale UniversityWest HavenUSA
  5. 5.Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology InstituteUniversity of PretoriaPretoriaRepublic of South Africa
  6. 6.Department of Microbiology and Plant Pathology, Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology InstituteUniversity of PretoriaPretoriaRepublic of South Africa
  7. 7.Natural History MuseumLondonUnited Kingdom
  8. 8.Department of Genetics, Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology InstituteUniversity of PretoriaPretoriaRepublic of South Africa
  9. 9.Department of EntomologyUniversity of CaliforniaRiversideUSA

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