Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Termites create sustainable monoculture fungus farming

Date:
November 22, 2009
Source:
Wageningen University and Research Centre
Summary:
Food production of modern human societies is mostly based on large-scale monoculture crops, but it now appears that advanced insect societies have the same practice. Our societies took just ten thousand years of (mainly cultural) evolution to adopt this habit and we are far from convinced that it is sustainable. Farming ants and termites had tens of millions of years to evolve their fungus farming systems and here monocultures are apparently evolutionary stable.

Macrotermes workers tending fungus garden nodules.
Credit: Photo by D.K. Aanen

Food production of modern human societies is mostly based on large-scale monoculture crops, but it now appears that advanced insect societies have the same practice. Our societies took just ten thousand years of (mainly cultural) evolution to adopt this habit and we are far from convinced that it is sustainable. Farming ants and termites had tens of millions of years to evolve their fungus farming systems and here monocultures are apparently evolutionary stable.

In a study published in the journal Science, researchers from the Laboratory of Genetics of Wageningen University and the Centre for Social Evolution at the University of Copenhagen take significant steps to resolve this puzzle.

The fungus-growing termites of the old-world tropics build impressive mounds consisting of thousands of workers and soldiers. These societies domesticated African Termitomyces mushrooms more than 30 million years ago and became obligatorily dependent on farming their own fungal food in their often gigantic nest mounds. The termite fungus-farming symbiosis had a single African rain-forest origin and now comprises ca 330 species. It is of major ecological importance for decomposition and mineralcycling.

A colony-founding termite queen and king normally do not acquire their first garden until they have raised the first workers. These helpers collect Termitomyces spores while foraging, together with the plant material that they defecate in the nest to establish a garden substrate. These spores are amply available because the fungus gardens produce large mushrooms once a year on top of the termite mounds.

However, this farming practice offers a paradox: Evolutionary theory predicts that symbioses with multiple lineages per colony should be unstable, because these genotypes can be expected to compete for making mushrooms rather than collaborate to serve the termite farmers.

The new study shows that a very special mechanism is in place to prevent this from happening. All colonies from which multiple fungal samples were genetically analyzed contained only a single fungal genotype in spite of gardens having been initiated from at least two and probably many more genetically different spores.

Duur Aanen, Koos Boomsma and their respective colleagues in Wageningen and Copenhagen show that genotypes that happen to be common in a garden, become even more common at the expense of rarer genotypes. This happens not because common genotypes are better direct competitors, but because they have a higher chance of having an identical genotype as neighbor. Every time this happens, such genetically identical mycelia merge, which enhances the efficiency by which they produce asexual spores that the termites eat and deposit in new garden material of the colony. This process of positive reinforcement makes every colony end up with a life-time commitment to a single fungal symbiont in spite of the population at large having many fungal genotypes.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Wageningen University and Research Centre. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Wageningen University and Research Centre. "Termites create sustainable monoculture fungus farming." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 November 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/11/091120000437.htm>.
Wageningen University and Research Centre. (2009, November 22). Termites create sustainable monoculture fungus farming. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/11/091120000437.htm
Wageningen University and Research Centre. "Termites create sustainable monoculture fungus farming." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/11/091120000437.htm (accessed September 20, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Chocolate Museum Opens in Brussels

Chocolate Museum Opens in Brussels

AFP (Sep. 19, 2014) Considered a "national heritage" in Belgium, chocolate now has a new museum in Brussels. In a former chocolate factory, visitors to the permanent exhibition spaces, workshops and tastings can discover derivatives of the cocoa bean. Duration: 01:00 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Could Grief Affect The Immune Systems Of Senior Citizens?

Could Grief Affect The Immune Systems Of Senior Citizens?

Newsy (Sep. 19, 2014) The study found elderly people are much more likely to become susceptible to infection than younger adults going though a similar situation. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Jury Delivers Verdict in Salmonella Trial

Jury Delivers Verdict in Salmonella Trial

AP (Sep. 19, 2014) A federal jury has convicted three people in connection with an outbreak of salmonella poisoning five years ago that sickened hundreds of people and was linked to a number of deaths. (Sept. 19) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Elephant Undergoes Surgery in Tbilisi Zoo

Raw: Elephant Undergoes Surgery in Tbilisi Zoo

AP (Sep. 18, 2014) Grand the elephant has successfully undergone surgery to remove a portion of infected tusk at Tbilisi Zoo in Georgia. British veterinary surgeons used an electric drill to extract the infected piece. (Sept. 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins