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Growth and reproduction of fungal feeding Collembola as affected by fungal species, melanin and mixed diets

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Fungal feeding soil invertebrates feed on a wide spectrum of fungal species suggesting that mixed diets increase fitness. We investigated relationships between food preferences for seven saprophytic fungal species/forms and fitness parameters (mortality, growth, time to reproduction, reproduction, egg size) in two Collembola species, Folsomia candida and Protaphorura armata. The fungal species/forms studied included the wild type and a melanin-deficient form of Aspergillus fumigatus to investigate the role of melanin in collembolan nutrition. Also, three mixed diets consisting of a preferred fungal species (Cladosporium cladosporioides) and species of intermediate or low food quality were investigated. Both Collembola species preferred similar fungal species/forms as food. Food preference generally matched fitness parameters, i.e. growth and reproduction of Collembola was at a maximum when feeding on preferred fungi. This was not the case for A. fumigatus. The wild type and the melanin-deficient form ranked among the least preferred fungi. Growth and reproduction of Collembola were low when feeding on the wild type but high when feeding on the melanin-deficient form indicating that the Collembola misjudged the food quality of the latter in the preference tests. The results show for the first time that genes driving melanin syntheses (pksP) strongly affect the food quality of fungi for fungal feeding invertebrates. Feeding on mixed diets generally increased growth and reproduction of Collembola except when the diets included toxic species (Penicillium sp.). The results support the nutrient balance hypothesis and also show that the detection of toxic species in the diet is important. They indicate that the widespread generalist feeding mode of Collembola maximizes fitness if toxic fungal species are avoided. The fitness parameters growth, reproduction and time until onset of reproduction were correlated closely but egg volume, which also varied with fungal diet, correlated poorly with the other fitness parameters. Variation in egg size with fungal diet shows that the diet of Collembola may have transgenerational effects.

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Financial support by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (Graduiertenkolleg 340, Technische Universität Darmstadt) is gratefully acknowledged. Helpful comments by Liliane Ruess are appreciated.

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Correspondence to Stefan Scheu.

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Scheu, S., Simmerling, F. Growth and reproduction of fungal feeding Collembola as affected by fungal species, melanin and mixed diets. Oecologia 139, 347–353 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-004-1513-7

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  • Springtails
  • Fungivores
  • Growth
  • Reproduction
  • Fitness