Relationship between virulence and repellency of entomopathogenic isolates of Metarhizium anisopliae and Beauveria bassiana to the termite Macrotermes michaelseni.
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Termites encounter a diverse array of potentially useful and harmful fungi in their subterranean habitats. These vary from symbiotic to harmful species with varying levels of virulence. How these hemiedaphic insects survive in habitats with infective fungi is not well understood. Possible mediation of olfactory signals in avoiding contact with entomopathogenic fungi has been explored by a number of workers. In the present study, we initially found that Macrotermes michaelseni detected a virulent isolate of Metarhizium anisopliae from some distance and avoided direct physical contact. We hypothesized that there may be a relationship between virulence and repellency of different isolates of M. anisopliae and Beauveria bassiana to the termite. We compared these for selected isolates of the two fungi. Positive correlations between the two parameters for both sets of isolates of the fungi were obtained. The results show an interesting co-evolutionary phenomenon in which the termite's response to either M. anisopliae or B. bassiana is directly related to potential harm these fungi can inflict on the insect and that the virulent strains are more likely to be recognized from some distance and avoided.