Challenges in modelling complexity of fungal entomopathogens in semi-natural populations of insects
H. Hesketh, H. E. Roy, J. Eilenberg, J. K. Pell, R. S. Hails
NERC Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Mansfield Road, Oxford, Oxfordshire, OX1 3SR, UK.
The use of fungal entomopathogens as microbial control agents has driven studies into their ecology in crop ecosystems. Yet, there is still a lack of understanding of the ecology of these insect pathogens in semi-natural habitats and communities. We review the literature on prevalence of fungal entomopathogens in insect populations and highlight the difficulties in making such measurements. We then describe the theoretical host-pathogen models available to examine the role that fungal entomopathogens could play in regulating insect populations in semi-natural habitats, much of the inspiration for which has been drawn from managed systems, particularly forests. We further emphasise the need to consider the complexity, and particularly the heterogeneity, of semi-natural habitats within the context of theoretical models and as a framework for empirical studies. We acknowledge that fundamental gaps in understanding fungal entomopathogens from an ecological perspective coupled with a lack of empirical data to test theoretical predictions is impeding progress. There is an increasing need, especially under current rapid environmental change, to improve our understanding of the role of fungi in insect population dynamics beyond the context of forestry and agriculture.