Naturwissenschaften

, Volume 95, Issue 11, pp 1049–1054 | Cite as

Mushroom harvesting ants in the tropical rain forest

Original Paper

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.

Keywords

Dietary specialization Formicidae Fungi Mycophagy Spore dispersal 

Notes

Acknowledgements

We are grateful for financial support from the DFG (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft). Thanks to J. S. LaPolla for species determination and to J. Meinwald, L. Abrell, S. Foitzik, and R. Morrison for helpful comments on the manuscript.

References

  1. Aanen DK, Eggleton P, Rouland-Lefèvre C, Guldberg-Frøslev T, Rosendahl S, Boomsma JJ (2002) The evolution of fungus-growing termites and their mutualistic fungal symbionts. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 99:14887–14892PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Davidson DW (1998) Resource discovery versus resource domination in ants: a functional mechanism for breaking the trade-off. Ecol Entomol 23:484–490CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Dell B (2002) Role of mycorrhizal fungi in ecosystems. CMU J Nat Sci 1:47–60Google Scholar
  4. Dix NJ, Webster J (1995) Fungal ecology. Chapman & Hall, LondonGoogle Scholar
  5. Farrell BD, Seqeira AS, O’Meara BC, Normark BB, Chung JH, Jordal BH (2001) The evolution of agriculture in beetles (Curculionidae: Scolotinae and Platypodinae). Evolution 55:2011–2027PubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Gotwald WH (1995) Army ants—the biology of social predation. Cornell University Press, IthacaGoogle Scholar
  7. Hammond PM, Lawrence JF (1989) Mycophagy in insects: a summary. In: Webber JF (ed) Insect-fungus interactions. Academic Press, London, pp 275–324Google Scholar
  8. Hölldobler B, Wilson EO (1990) The ants. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MAGoogle Scholar
  9. Jacobs W, Renner M (1998) Biologie und Ökologie der Insekten: ein Taschenlexikon. Fischer, StuttgartGoogle Scholar
  10. Johnson CN (1994) Nutritional ecology of a mycophagous marsupial in relation to production of hypogeous fungi. Ecology 75:2015–2021CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. MacMahon JA, Mull JF, Crist TO (2000) Harvester ants (Pogonomyrmex spp.): their community and ecosystem influences. Ann Rev Ecol Syst 31:265–291CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Martin MM (1979) Biochemical implications of insect mycophagy. Biol Rev Camb Philos Soc 54:1–21CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Martin MM (1992) The evolution of insect-fungus associations: from contact to stable symbiosis. Am Zool 32:593–605Google Scholar
  14. Maschwitz U, Hänel H (1985) The migrating herdsman Dolichoderus (Diabolus) cuspidatus: an ant with a novel mode of life. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 17:171–184Google Scholar
  15. Maschwitz U, Steghaus-Kovac S, Gaube R, Hänel H (1989) A South East Asian ponerine ant of the genus Leptogenys (Hym., Form.) with army ant life habits. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 24:305–316CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Mueller UG, Gerardo N (2002) Fungus-farming insects: multiple origins and diverse evolutionary histories. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 99:15247–15249PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Mueller UG, Rehner SA, Schultz TR (1998) The evolution of agriculture in ants. Science 281:2034–2038PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Mueller UG, Gerardo NM, Aanen DK, Six DL, Schultz TR (2005) The evolution of agriculture in insects. Annu Rev Ecol Evol System 36:563–595CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Newman EI, Reddell P (1987) The distribution of mycorrhizas among families of vascular plants. New Phytol 106:745–751CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. North M, Trappe J, Franklyn J (1997) Standing crop and animal consumption of fungal sporocarps in pacific northwest forests. Ecology 78:1543–1554CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Reddel P, Spain AV, Hopkins M (1997) Dispersal of spores of mycorrhizal fungi in scats of native mammals in tropical forests of Northeastern Australia. Biotropica 29:184–192CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Rissing SW (1986) Indirect effects of granivory by harvester ants: plant species composition and reproductive increase near ant nests. Oecologia 68:231–234CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Schultz TR, Brady SG (2008) Major evolutionary transitions in ant agriculture. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 105:5435–5440PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. van der Heijden MGA, Klironomos JN, Ursic M, Moutoglis P, Streitwolf-Engel R, Boller T, Wiemken A, Sanders IR (1998) Mycorrhizal fungal diversity determines plant biodiversity, ecosystem variability and productivity. Nature 396:69–72CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Wang B, Qiu Y-L (2006) Phylogenetic distribution and evolution of mycorrhizas in land plants. Mycorrhiza 16:299–363PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Ward PS (2006) Ants. Curr Biol 16:152–155CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department Biologie IILudwig-Maximilians Universität MünchenPlanegg-MartinsriedGermany
  2. 2.Institut für Bienenkunde (Polytechnische Gesellschaft), Fachbereich Biologie und InformatikJohann-Wolfgang-Goethe Universität Frankfurt a.M.OberurselGermany

Personalised recommendations