Fungi and insects associated with Euphorbia ingens die-off in South Africa
Euphorbia ingens, landmark succulent trees in savannas of South Africa, have been dying in large numbers over the last 10–15 years. Initial studies conducted in the Limpopo province of South Africa revealed a diverse group of biotic agents including fungi, beetles and moths associated with dying trees, but due to the limited geographic extent of these studies, it was not known if the same agents were associated with dying trees regionally. In this study, diseased and insect-infested trees were sampled for fungal pathogens and insects at six sites in four provinces located across South Africa. Fungi were identified based on morphology and DNA sequencing of the ITS, LSU, β-tubulin and TEF 1-α gene regions, and insects were identified based on morphology. Fungal isolates were identified as Aureovirgo volantis, Fusarium solani, Lasiodiplodia × egyptiacae, Ophiostoma thermarum and
a Readeriella species. Five insects were identified, all in the family Curculionidae, including two ambrosia beetles, Cyrtogenius africus and a Stenoscelis species. All fungi and insects collected are known to be opportunistic and occur on stressed trees as secondary agents of mortality or disease. These results suggest that the die-off is not related to attack of the trees by aggressive insects or pathogens, but rather that E. ingens in this region is under stress from environmental factors that supports the ability of opportunistic insects and pathogens to establish.
Keywords: ambrosia beetles, opportunistic pathogens, tree stress