A fungus-growing ant species has been associated with a single fungus type for millions of years, reports a study published in Nature Communications this week. Fungus-growing ants cultivate fungi for food, but it has been unclear whether single ant and fungal species are exclusive to one another. This study provides an example of fidelity of these ants to a specific fungus over evolutionary time, even though alternative fungi species have been available.
Fungus-growing ants depend on the cultivation of fungi for food. In this mutually beneficial relationship the ants in turn nourish, protect and disperse the fungi they grow. Natasha Mehdiabadi and colleagues studied the relationship between 138 individual ants from the Cyphomyrmex wheeleri species group and over 400 fungus-cultivar samples. Their results support the idea of ants’ conformity to particular fungi in this group of fungus-growing ants over several millions of years.
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