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 April 16, 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 April 16, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Ebola Outbreak Now Linked To 121 Deaths

Ebola Outbreak Now Linked To 121 Deaths

Newsy (Apr. 15, 2014) The ebola virus outbreak in West Africa is now linked to 121 deaths. Health officials fear the virus will continue to spread in urban areas. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
In Washington, a Push to Sterilize Stray Cats

In Washington, a Push to Sterilize Stray Cats

AFP (Apr. 14, 2014) To curb the growing numbers of feral cats in the US capital, the Washington Humane Society is encouraging residents to set traps and bring the animals to a sterilization clinic, after which they are released.. Duration: 02:29 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
After Attack, Officials Kill 5 Bears in Florida

After Attack, Officials Kill 5 Bears in Florida

AP (Apr. 14, 2014) Florida wildlife officials say they have killed five bears following an attack on a woman in a suburban subdivision in central Florida. Forty-five year-old Terri Frana was attacked by a large bear in her driveway Saturday. (April 14) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Uruguay Opens Its First Cannabis Library

Uruguay Opens Its First Cannabis Library

AFP (Apr. 13, 2014) Uruguay opened its first Cannabis Library in Montevideo on Saturday, where people can come and read books on cannabis or take classes on how to grow the plant or even how to cook with it. Duration: 01:20 Video provided by AFP
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