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Fungus-farming termites descend from an African rain forest Eve

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The rain forest origin of fungus-growing termites is remarkable, as extant species of fungus-growing termites are ecologically (in terms of their relative contribution to decomposition processes) and evolutionarily (in terms of species numbers) most successful in savannah ecosystems. The researchers hypothesize that the ecological success of fungus-growing termites in savannas is due to the adoption of a highly successful rain forest process (fungal white-rot decay) by domesticating white-rot fungi. By offering those domesticated fungi a constant supply of growth substrate, and humid, highly buffered, rain forest like climatic conditions in their nests, termites have been able to export this rain forest process into the savannas. The marrying of termites and fungi in a mutualistic symbiosis has thus allowed both partners to conquer the savannah: agricultural termites and their mutualistic fungi are both more successful in this habitat than each of their non-agricultural sister groups, which thrive in the rain forest.

Interestingly, those results have some parallels to the origin and subsequent evolution of human agriculture. Human agriculture is also believed to have originated in relatively favourable areas to which most domesticable plants and animals were native. From the homelands of domestication, agriculture has later spread to other regions, including to much more unfavourable areas. This occurred either by the adoption of an agricultural lifestyle by local hunter-gatherers, or, and probably more often, through replacement of local hunter-gatherers by farmers. The agricultural lifestyle has allowed both humans and their domesticated organisms to exploit unfavourable areas more effectively and to reach far higher population densities than each of their non-agricultural relatives can alone. Furthermore, besides their agricultural proficiency, fungus-farming termites resemble humans in another respect: just like the human female ancestor was Afri
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Source:Cell Press


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