You don’t have the guts: a diverse set of fungi survive passage through Macrotermes bellicosus termite guts [+ correction]

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Background: Monoculture farming poses significant disease challenges, but fungus-farming termites are able to successfully keep their monoculture crop free from contamination by other fungi. It has been hypothesised that obligate gut passage of all plant substrate used to manure the fungal symbiont is key to accomplish this. Here we refute this hypothesis in the fungus-farming termite species Macrotermes bellicosus. Results: We first used ITS amplicon sequencing to show that plant substrate foraged on by termite workers harbour diverse fungal communities, which potentially could challenge the farming symbiosis. Subsequently, we cultivated fungi from dissected sections of termite guts to show that fungal diversity does not decrease during gut passage. Therefore, we investigated if healthy combs harboured these undesirable fungal genera, and whether the presence of workers affected fungal diversity within combs. Removal of workers led to a surge in fungal diversity in combs, implying that termite defences must be responsible for the near-complete absence of other fungi in functioning termite gardens. Conclusions: The rapid proliferation of some of these fungi when colonies are compromised indicates that some antagonists successfully employ a sit-and-wait strategy that allows them to remain dormant until conditions are favourable. Although this strategy requires potentially many years of waiting, it prevents these fungi from engaging in an evolutionary arms race with the termite host, which employs a series of complementary behavioural and chemical defences that may prove insurmountable.

Original languageEnglish
Article number163
JournalBMC Evolutionary Biology
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Bibliographical note

Correction to: You don’t have the guts: a diverse set of fungi survive passage through Macrotermes bellicosus termite guts (BMC Ecology and Evolution, (2020), 20, 1, (163), 10.1186/s12862-020-01727-z)

    Research areas

  • Antimicrobial defence, Macrotermitinae, Mycobiome, Pseudoxylaria, Termitomyces

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