Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Experimental evidence of a symbiosis between red-cockaded woodpeckers and fungi

Informally Refereed
Authors: Michelle A. Jusino, Daniel L. Lindner, Mark T. Banik, Kevin R. Rose, Jeffrey R. Walters
Year: 2016
Type: Scientific Journal (JRNL)
Station: Northern Research Station
Source: Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences


Primary cavity excavators, such as woodpeckers, are ecosystem engineers in many systems. Associations between cavity excavators and fungi have long been hypothesized to facilitate cavity excavation, but these relationships have not been experimentally verified. Fungi may help excavators by softening wood, while excavators may facilitate fungal dispersal. Here we demonstrate that excavators facilitate fungal dispersal and thus we report the first experimental evidence of a symbiosis between fungi and a cavity excavator, the red-cockaded woodpecker (RCW, Picoides borealis). Swab samples of birds showed that RCWs carry fungal communities similar to those found in their completed excavations. A 26-month field experiment using human-made aseptically drilled excavations in live trees, half of which were inaccessible to RCWs, demonstrated thatRCWs directly alter fungal colonization and community composition. Experimental excavations that were accessible to RCWs contained fungal communities similar to natural RCW excavations, whereas inaccessible experimental excavations contained significantly different fungal communities. Our work demonstrates a complex symbiosis between cavity excavators and communities of fungi, with implications for forest ecology, wildlife management, and conservation.


cavity excavator, cavity nester, fungal communities, multipartite symbiosis, Picoides borealis, wood decay fungi


Jusino, Michelle A.; Lindner, Daniel L.; Banik, Mark T.; Rose, Kevin R.; Walters, Jeffrey R. 2016. Experimental evidence of a symbiosis between red-cockaded woodpeckers and fungi. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 283(8): 20160106-. 7 p.