Environmental factors and nutritional utilization patterns affect niche overlap indices between Aspergillus ochraceus and other spoilage fungi

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The total number, and the type of C source utilized in common by an ochratoxin producing strain of Aspergillus ochraceus and six other spoilage fungi varied with the range used (95, Biolog GN plates, or 18 major C sources found in maize). The niche size and niche overlap index (NOI) were markedly influenced by water availability (water activity, aw) and temperature. With freely available water (0.995 aw) there was ecological similarity between A. ochraceus, A. alternata, A. candidus and A. flavus, all exploiting the same sources at both 18 and 30 °C. However, under water stress, A. ochraceus had a low NOI compared with A. niger, A. flavus and A. candidus, and Eurotium spp., suggesting that there was very little niche overlap in utilization of different C sources. The NOIs were not directly related to growth rates. Niche overlap between species was shown to be in a state of flux and significantly influenced by environmental factors. This may have important implications in understanding ecological interactions, and dominance by species in a community, and for pre-emptive exclusion of specific species.

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