The Evolution of Fungus Farming Ants, and How They Partnered with Microbes for Crop Protection
Fungus-farming ants stand as a testament to the overlooked marvels of the insect world, likely one of the reason’s why Dr. Jeffrey Sosa has dedicated the better part of his time as a researcher to elucidating the hidden intricacies of their biology. Having discovered over 30 species so far over the course of his career, few researchers can say with such confidence that we’ve only scratched the surface when it comes to understanding this enthralling tribe of insects.
The ecological interplay between the ants and their agricultural “crop” is even more complicated than it seems at first glance. The ants use living or dead biomass as a substrate for the growth of their fungi making sure to tend to matters of humidity, temperature, and even providing fertilizer to ensure optimal growth. The greatest threat to colony survival arises from a competitive fungus that feeds on and kills the cultivated fungal gardens.
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Bolton, B., J. Sosa-Calvo, F. Fernandez, and J. E. Lattke. 2008. New synonyms in neotropical Myrmicine ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Zootaxa. 64: 61–64.
Schultz, T. R., J. Sosa-Calvo, S. G. Brady, C. T. Lopes, U. G. Mueller, M. Bacci, and H. L. Vasconcelos. 2015. The Most Relictual Fungus-Farming Ant Species Cultivates the Most Recently Evolved and Highly Domesticated Fungal Symbiont Species. Am. Nat. 000–000.
Sosa-Calvo, J., and T. R. Schultz. 2010. Three Remarkable New Fungus-Growing Ant Species of the Genus Myrmicocrypta (Hymenoptera: Formicidae), with a Reassessment of the Characters That Define the Genus and Its Position within the Attini. Ann. Entomol. Soc. Am. 103: 181–195.
Sosa-Calvo, J., T. R. Schultz, C. R. F. Brandão, C. Klingenberg, R. M. Feitosa, C. Rabeling, M. Bacci, C. T. Lopes, and H. L. Vasconcelos. 2013. Cyatta abscondita: Taxonomy, evolution, and natural history of a new fungus-farming ant genus from Brazil. PLoS One. 8: 1–20.
Sosa-Calvo, J., S. O. Shattuck, and T. R. Schultz. 2006. Dacetine ants of Panama: new records and description of a new species (Hymenoptera: Formicidae: Myrmicinae: Dacetini). Proc. Entomol. Soc. Washingt. 108: 814–821.
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Armando Rosario-Lebron is a graduate student in the laboratory of Dr. Cerruti RR Hooks. His work focuses on improving Maryland agriculture through diversification of farmland by harnessing natural enemies through increased habitat diversity. Part of his work focuses on how cover crops and flowering plants can be introduced as methods to increase habitat diversity in Maryland Agriculture.
Samuel Ramsey is a 3rd year PhD student in Dennis vanEngelsdorp’s bee lab currently studying the biology of and control measures for the invasive varroa mite, a parasite implicated in sizeable colony loss globally.