Comparative Biology of Fungus Cultivation in Termites and Ants

  • Tânia Nobre
  • Corinne Rouland-Lefèvre
  • Duur K. Aanen


We review the two known mutualistic symbioses between basidiomycete fungi and social insects: the attine ants and macrotermitine termites, comparing their origin, history and patterns of co-evolution, and stability. It is argued that ants are “specialised farmers of unspecialised crops”, whereas termites are “specialised farmers of specialised crops”. Furthermore, despite differences in symmetry and symbiont transmission mode, in both relationships there is a moderate specificity between partners. The unresolved debate about the main role of the symbiotic fungus in the fungus-growing termites is summarised and contrasted with the role in the fungus in attine ants, which is little debated. We compare colony foundation and structure, and the modes of symbiotic interaction between the two groups of social insects, highlighting gaps in our understanding of both systems. Finally, we discuss how these symbioses can be evolutionarily stable and the mechanisms by which the ant and termite symbionts ensure monopolies of host care. We conclude by identifying some lines of future research within the fungus-growing termite symbiosis.


Horizontal Transmission Fungal Symbiont Fungus Garden Ambrosia Beetle Asexual Spore 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer Netherlands 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tânia Nobre
    • 1
  • Corinne Rouland-Lefèvre
    • 2
  • Duur K. Aanen
    • 1
  1. 1.Laboratory of GeneticsWageningen UniversityWageningenThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Institut de recherche pour le développementUnité de recherche Biodiversité et fonctionnement du solBondy CedexFrance

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