Comparative biology of fungus cultivation in termites and ants

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Abstract

We review the two known mutualistic symbioses between basidiomycete fungi and social insects: the attine ants and macrotermitine termites, comparing their origin, history and patterns of co-evolution, and stability. It is argued that ants are specialised farmers of unspecialised crops, whereas termites are specialised farmers of specialised crops. Furthermore, despite differences in symmetry and symbiont transmission mode, in both relationships there is a moderate specificity between partners. The unresolved debate about the main role of the symbiotic fungus in the fungus-growing termites is summarised and contrasted with the role in the fungus in attine ants, which is little debated. We compare colony foundation and structure, and the modes of symbiotic interaction between the two groups of social insects, highlighting gaps in our understanding of both systems. Finally, we discuss how these symbioses can be evolutionarily stable and the mechanisms by which the ant and termite symbionts ensure monopolies of host care. We conclude by identifying some lines of future research within the fungus-growing termite symbiosis. © Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011.

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Nobre, T., Rouland-Lefèvre, C., & Aanen, D. K. (2011). Comparative biology of fungus cultivation in termites and ants. In Biology of Termites: A Modern Synthesis (pp. 193–210). Springer Netherlands. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-90-481-3977-4_8

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