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

Mushroom harvesting ants in the tropical rain forest

  • Volker WitteEmail author
  • Ulrich Maschwitz
Original Paper


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.


Dietary specialization Formicidae Fungi Mycophagy Spore dispersal 



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.


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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

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