Natural occurrence of soil-borne entomopathogenic fungi in the Moroccan endemic forest of Argania spinosa and their pathogenicity to Ceratitis capitata.
The occurrence and abundance of entomopathogenic fungi were analysed in 203 soil samples of the Moroccan endemic forests of Argania spinosa, the world main refuge of the Mediterranean fruit fly, Ceratitis capitata. Using the Galleria baiting method and selective media, entomopathogenic fungi were isolated from 186 of the 203 (91.62%) soil samples, with only three species found: Beauveria bassiana (Balsamo) Vuillemin, Metarhizium anisopliae (Metschnikoff) Sorokin and Paecilomyces lilacinus (Thom.) Samson. B. bassiana was the most widespread entomopathogenic fungi (90.64%) in the Argan forest whereas M. anisopliae was less common (15.27%) and P. lilacinus was very rare (1.48%). This is the first report of natural occurrence of M. anisopliae and P. lilacinus in Morocco. Furthermore, 118 Moroccan B. bassiana isolates were studied for their pathogenicity to C. capitata and thermotolerance. Most of these autochtonous B. bassiana isolates were virulent (86.44%) to Medfly pupae and tolerant (55.08%) to temperature stress at 45°C for 2 h. Only 60.17% of Moroccan B. bassiana isolates might be considered as highly entomopathogenic and will serve as a source of potential biological control agents to C. capitata. The percentage of thermotolerant and pathogenic B. bassiana to C. capitata were shown to decrease significantly at winter time characterized by low temperatures and absence of any noticeable medfly in the Argan forest. The occurrence, thermotolerance and virulence of B. bassiana isolates to C. capitata seemed to be related to the sampling periods and location. Our data are discussed with respect to fungal ecology and biocontrol potential of B. bassiana isolates in relation to their habitat.