Natures wonders: ants farm fungus for food (Introduction)

by David Turell @, Saturday, September 03, 2016, 00:13 (1111 days ago) @ David Turell

And they manage their fertilizer for the best food results:

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/09/160902142139.htm

"Soon after the dinosaur extinctions 60 million years ago, the ancestors of leaf-cutter ants swapped a hunter-gatherer lifestyle for a bucolic existence on small-scale subsistence farms. A new study at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Panama revealed that living relatives of these earliest fungus-farming ants still have not domesticated their crop, a challenge also faced by early human farmers.

"Modern leaf-cutter ants can not live without their fungus and the fungus can not live without the ants -- in fact, young queens carry a bit from the nests where they were born when they fly out to establish a new nest. The fungus, in turn, does not waste energy-producing spores to reproduce itself.

"'For this sort of tight mutual relationship to develop, the interests of the ants and the fungi have to be completely aligned, like when business partners agree on all the terms in a contract," said Bill Wcislo,

"Just as human farmers harvest their vegetables before they go to seed, ants want their fungus to minimize the amount of energy it puts into creating inedible mushrooms full of spores. It is best for the ants if the fungus grows more of the fungal hyphae that fill up the chambers in their underground gardens and serve as food for the ants and their larvae.

"In a study of Mycocepurus smithii, an ancestor of the leaf-cutters that has not yet domesticated its fungal crop, at the Smithsonian research center in Gamboa, Panama, Jonathan Shik, a Marie Curie Post-Doctoral Fellow in Jacobus Boomsma's lab at the University of Copenhagen, and collaborators discovered that the ants adjust the protein and carbohydrate concentration of the mulch they provide to minimize the amount of mushrooms that their non-domesticated fungal cultivars produce. When they provide mulches rich in carbohydrates, the fungus can produce both hyphae and mushrooms, but carefully provisioned doses of protein can prevent the fungi from making mushrooms. However, this strategy of keeping their fungus in line requires that the total output of their fungus gardens remain low.

"Just as human farmers harvest their vegetables before they go to seed, ants want their fungus to minimize the amount of energy it puts into creating inedible mushrooms full of spores. It is best for the ants if the fungus grows more of the fungal hyphae that fill up the chambers in their underground gardens and serve as food for the ants and their larvae.

""In a study of Mycocepurus smithii, an ancestor of the leaf-cutters that has not yet domesticated its fungal crop, at the Smithsonian research center in Gamboa, Panama, Jonathan Shik, a Marie Curie Post-Doctoral Fellow in Jacobus Boomsma's lab at the University of Copenhagen, and collaborators discovered that the ants adjust the protein and carbohydrate concentration of the mulch they provide to minimize the amount of mushrooms that their non-domesticated fungal cultivars produce. When they provide mulches rich in carbohydrates, the fungus can produce both hyphae and mushrooms, but carefully provisioned doses of protein can prevent the fungi from making mushrooms. However, this strategy of keeping their fungus in line requires that the total output of their fungus gardens remain low."

Comment: the parallelism with human agriculture is amazing. The ant colonies show a group cleverness and one must wonder did the ants work out this arrangement on their own or were they guided? They originally lived on leaves. How did they find a somewhat compliant fungus?


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