Geography and niche occupancy as determinants of yeast biodiversity: the yeast-insect-morning glory ecosystem of Kīpuka Puaulu, Hawai'i

FEMS Yeast Res. 2003 Oct;4(1):105-11. doi: 10.1016/S1567-1356(03)00149-1.


Biodiversity theory proposes two types of hypotheses to account for the species composition of a given community. The first encompasses geographic and historical factors. For example, local species richness is thought to be affected by area, proximity to large landmasses, dispersal mechanisms, and climatic history, collectively known as biogeography. The second type, termed niche occupancy rules, deals with the intrinsic properties of the species as they affect their interaction with the habitat and with other members of the community. The yeast-insect-morning glory ecosystem is a good model to explore biodiversity theory in ascomycetous yeasts. Here we focus on beetles that breed or feed in morning glories and a group of ascomycetous yeasts that are associated exclusively with them. Specifically, we analyse the community found in the vicinity of Kīpuka Puaulu, a small patch of disturbed but mature forest situated amidst lava flows on the island of Hawai'i. Major members of the yeast community include Metschnikowia hawaiiensis, Metschnikowia lochheadii, and the related asexual species Candida ipomoeae and Candida kipukae. These species are nearly indistinguishable from one another in terms of nutritional requirements and abilities, although their phylogenetic range is enormous. Their distribution, both global and local, is far from random. As Kīpuka Puaulu is an island within an island, the principles of island biogeography may be invoked to explain some aspects of its yeast species composition. M. lochheadii, C. ipomoeae, and the rare species Candida hawaiiana are recent introductions from the American continent and therefore exotic, whereas M. hawaiiensis and C. kipukae might be regarded as endemic, as they are yet to be isolated elsewhere. Vectoring by certain nitidulid beetles explains the long-range dispersal of these species. However, niche occupancy rules may account in part for the local spatial distribution of the yeasts within the island of Hawai'i and within the kīpuka itself. We have identified the maximum growth temperature as a potentially critical property of the fundamental niche of these yeasts.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Asteraceae / classification
  • Asteraceae / microbiology*
  • Biodiversity
  • DNA, Fungal / analysis
  • Ecosystem
  • Geography
  • Hawaii
  • Insecta / microbiology*
  • Phylogeny
  • Yeasts / classification*
  • Yeasts / genetics


  • DNA, Fungal