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Viability of fungal rhizomorphs used in bird nest construction in tropical rainforests

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Fungal rhizomorphs, largely from the suborder Marasmiineae, are routinely used in the construction of bird nests in tropical and subtropical forests. Fungal rhizomorphs provide structural benefits that include increased tensile strength and water repellence. Additionally, it has been hypothesized that the incorporation of rhizomorphs into nests may provide a means of parasite control through the production of antibiotics or volatiles. However, this hypothesis was not supported when a prior study of rhizomorphs in a tropical dry forest were found to be non-viable. Therefore, in this study, we tested the viability of four species of fungal rhizomorphs from bird nests constructed in a tropical rainforest. Twenty-five different rhizomorphs were harvested from 22 bird nests collected in the Iwokrama Forest in the Guiana Shield. Rhizomorphs were surface sterilized and plated on nutrient media. All rhizomorphs produced hyphae, suggesting they were metabolically active. Of these, ten were isolated in axenic culture and DNA barcoding was used to match cultures and originating rhizomorphs. The results showed that, at least in wet tropical rainforests, bird nest rhizomorphs used for nest construction are viable. This supports the hypothesis that the utilization of rhizomorphs by birds may provide additional benefits, including the production of antimicrobials, but that climatic conditions may influence the viability of these structures.

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Fig. 1

Data Availability

All sequences generated during this study are deposited in the NCBI GenBank, while live cultures are maintained in the laboratory of M. Catherine Aime at Purdue University, and a dried voucher of each species is deposited in the Kriebel Herbarium (PUL), also housed at Purdue University. Living cultures are maintained within the culture collection of the Aime lab and dried cultures are housed in PUL, at Purdue University.

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The authors wish to thank two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on the manuscript, along with Francino and Luciano Edmund for help collecting nests. Research and export permits were issued by the Guyana Environmental Protection Agency and Iwokrama. Raquel Thomas-Cesar greatly facilitated our work at Iwokrama.


This study was funded by a National Geographic Society Early Career Grant EX59602R-19 and the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture Hatch project 1010662.

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The study conception and design, and rhizomorph collection was performed by Rachel A. Koch Bach and M. Catherine Aime. Laboratory culturing and molecular work was performed by Mia Brann. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to M. Catherine Aime.

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Bach, R.A.K., Brann, M. & Aime, M.C. Viability of fungal rhizomorphs used in bird nest construction in tropical rainforests. Symbiosis 87, 175–179 (2022).

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