Insectes Sociaux

, Volume 58, Issue 1, pp 57–64 | Cite as

Genetic diversity of termite-egg mimicking fungi “termite balls” within the nests of termites

Research Article


Antagonistic or mutualistic interactions between insects and fungi are well-known, and the mutualistic interactions of fungus-growing ants, fungus-growing termites, and fungus-gardening beetles with their respective fungal mutualists are model examples of coevolution. However, our understanding of coevolutionary interactions between insects and fungi has been based on a few model systems. Fungal mimicry of termite eggs is one of the most striking evolutionary consequences of insect–fungus associations. This novel termite–fungus interaction is a good model system to compare with the relatively well-studied systems of fungus-growing ants and termites because termite egg-mimicking fungi are protected in the nests of social insects, as are fungi cultivated by fungus-growing ants and termites. Recently, among systems of fungus-growing ants and termites, much attention has been focused on common factors including monoculture system for the ultimate evolutionary stability of mutualism. We examined the genetic diversity of termite egg-mimicking fungi within host termite nests. RFLP analysis demonstrated that termite nests were often infected by multiple strains of termite egg-mimicking fungi, in contrast to single-strain monocultures in fungus combs of fungus-growing ants and termites. Additionally, phylogenetic analyses indicated the existence of a free-living stage of the termite egg-mimicking fungus as well as frequent long-distance gene flow by spores and subsequent horizontal transmission. Comparisons of these results with previous studies of fungus-growing ants and termites suggest that the level of genetic diversity of fungal symbionts within social insect nests may be important in shaping the outcome of the coevolutionary interaction, despite the fact that the mechanism for achieving genetic diversity varies with the evolutionary histories of the component species.


Insect–fungus interaction Multiple infections Parasitism Coevolution Termites 


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Copyright information

© International Union for the Study of Social Insects (IUSSI) 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Laboratory of Insect Ecology, Graduate School of Environmental ScienceOkayama UniversityKita-kuJapan
  2. 2.Laboratory of Environmental Mycoscience, Graduate School of AgricultureKyoto UniversityKyotoJapan

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