Insect association with fungi has a long history. Theories dealing with the evolution of insect herbivory indicate that insects used microbes including fungi as their principal food materials before flowering plants evolved. Subtlety and the level of intricacy in the interactions between insects and fungi indicate symbiosis as the predominant ecological pattern. The nature of the symbiotic interaction that occurs between two organisms (the insect and the fungus), may be either mutualistic or parasitic, or between these two extremes. However, the triangular relationship involving three organisms, viz., an insect, a fungus, and a vascular plant is a relationship that is more complicated than what can be described as either mutualism or parasitism, and may represent facets of both. Recent research has revealed such a complex relationship in the vertically transmitted type-I endophytes living within agriculturally important grasses and the pestiferous insects that attack them. The intricacy of the association depends on the endophytic fungus—grass association and the insect present. Secondary compounds produced in the endophytic fungus—grass association can provide grasses with resistance to herbivores resulting in mutualistic relationship between the fungus and the plant that has negative consequences for herbivorous insects. The horizontally transmitted nongrass type-II endophytes are far less well studied and as such their ecological roles are not fully understood. This forum article explores the intricacy of dependence in such complex triangular relationships drawing from well-established examples from the fungi that live as endophytes in vascular plants and how they impact on the biology and evolution of free-living as well as concealed (e.g., gall-inducing, gall-inhabiting) insects. Recent developments with the inoculation of strains of type-I fungal endophytes into grasses and their commercialization are discussed, along with the possible roles the endophytic fungi play in the galls induced by the Cecidomyiidae (Diptera).
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Vol. 41 • No. 3