, Volume 95, Issue 11, pp 1049-1054

Mushroom harvesting ants in the tropical rain forest

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Abstract

Ants belong to the most important groups of arthropods, inhabiting and commonly dominating most terrestrial habitats, especially tropical rainforests. Their highly collective behavior enables exploitation of various resources and is viewed as a key factor for their evolutionary success. Accordingly, a great variety of life strategies evolved in this group of arthropods, including seed harvesters, gardeners, and planters, fungus growers, nomadic hunters, life stock keepers, and slave makers. This study reports the discovery of a new lifestyle in ants. In a Southeast Asian rainforest habitat, Euprenolepis procera is specialized in harvesting a broad spectrum of naturally growing mushrooms, a nutritionally challenging and spatiotemporally unpredictable food source. While unfavorable to the vast majority of animals, E. procera has developed exceptional adaptations such as a shift to a fully nomadic lifestyle and special food processing capabilities, which allow it to rely entirely on mushrooms. As a consequence, E. procera is the most efficient and predominant consumer of epigeic mushrooms in the studied habitat and this has broad implications for the tropical rainforest ecosystem.

Communicated by: J. Heinze