Culture-Free Survey Reveals Diverse and Distinctive Fungal Communities Associated with Developing Figs (Ficus spp.) in Panama

Ellen O. Martinson, Edward Allen Herre, Carlos A. Machado, A. Elizabeth Arnold

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


The ancient association of figs (Ficus spp.) and their pollinating wasps (fig wasps; Chalcidoidea, Hymenoptera) is one of the most interdependent plant-insect mutualisms known. In addition to pollinating wasps, a diverse community of organisms develops within the microcosm of the fig inflorescence and fruit. To better understand the multipartite context of the fig-fig wasp association, we used a culture-free approach to examine fungal communities associated with syconia of six species of Ficus and their pollinating wasps in lowland Panama. Diverse fungi were recovered from surface-sterilized flowers of all Ficus species, including gall- and seed flowers at four developmental stages. Fungal communities in syconia and on pollinating wasps were similar, dominated by diverse and previously unknown Saccharomycotina, and distinct from leaf- and stem endophyte communities in the same region. Before pollination, fungal communities were similar between gall- and seed flowers and among Ficus species. However, fungal communities differed significantly in flowers after pollination vs. before pollination, and between anciently diverged lineages of Ficus with active vs. passive pollination syndromes. Within groups of relatively closely related figs, there was little evidence for strict-sense host specificity between figs and particular fungal species. Instead, mixing of fungal communities among related figs, coupled with evidence for possible transfer by pollinating wasps, is consistent with recent suggestions of pollinator mixing within syconia. In turn, changes in fungal communities during fig development and ripening suggest an unexplored role of yeasts in the context of the fig-pollinator wasp mutualism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1073-1084
Number of pages12
JournalMicrobial ecology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Soil Science


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