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Comparative population genetic analysis of fungal associates of the mountain pine beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae) Farfán, Lina


The mountain pine beetle (MPB), Dendroctonus ponderosae Hopkins, has destroyed over 18 million ha of pine forest in Canada since 1999, the largest insect epidemic in recorded history. Fungal symbionts in the Ophiostomales (Ascomycetes) play an important role in the outbreak by reducing the tree defense response following beetle colonization, making its environment more conducive to the insect development. A better understanding of the population genetics attributes of the fungal associates could be important to elucidate their role and to explain epidemic patterns. We investigated the genetic structure of one of those fungal associates, Leptographium longiclavatum, sampled from 28 locations in western North America using 11 microsatellite markers developed from the genome of its closest relative, Grosmannia clavigera, another fungal symbiont of the MPB. We found that L. longiclavatum has a distinctive genetic population structure, and by using Bayesian clustering inference, we discovered the presence of three clusters that are concordant with geographic origin of the samples. In addition, we observed an apparent North-South pattern of genetic diversity consistent with the chronology of the epidemic. Structure output showed one cluster comprised of individuals from Northern Alberta where the beetle-fungus complex has been recently established, and a second cluster composed of individuals originating along the Rocky Mountains, and a third cluster was from populations in BC. High haplotypic diversity was found throughout the range sampled, a surprising result given that sexual fruiting structures have never been observed for this fungus. Consistent with recent introduction history, the least differentiated populations were located in northern BC and Alberta. We observed a strong correlation in the genetic diversity pattern observed in L. longiclavatum, G. clavigera and D. ponderosae, as shown by a significant correlation in the genetic distance matrices amongst L. longiclavatum, G. clavigera, and D. ponderosae. This correlation and the similar north-south population structure of these interacting organisms suggest a joint population history consistent with the dependence of fungal dispersal on their bark beetle vector. These results can help clarify the roles and close relationships between the beetles and their fungal associates.

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