Climate change forced zombie ant fungi to adapt | 5/29/2018 | Staff
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Zombie ants clamp on to aerial vegetation and hang for months spewing the spores of their parasitic fungi, but researchers noticed that they do not always clamp on to the same part of the plant. Now the researchers know that the choice of leaves or twigs is related to climate and that climate change forced the fungi to adapt to local conditions.

"In tropical areas, zombie ants bite onto leaves, but in temperate areas, they bite twigs or bark," said David P. Hughes, associate professor of entomology and biology, Penn State.

Ants - Species - Carpenter - Ants - Fungus

Zombie ants are actually various species of carpenter ants that are infected with a parasitic fungus. About half the species of carpenter ants can be infected and each species has its own fungus. The zombie ant phenomena currently occurs around the globe on all continents except Europe. However, a fossil zombie ant was found in Germany, so they did once exist in Europe as well.

"They are probably not in Europe because the forests there are so managed," said Hughes. "They likely went locally extinct there."

Zombie - Spores - Ants - Multiplies - Ant

Zombie ant spores fall on ants from above and the fungus multiplies in the ant body using it as a source of nutrition. Eventually, the fungus manipulates the ant to climb high into the branches and clamp on by biting. If an infected ant dies in the colony or on the ground it has zero chance of infecting another ant, so positioning the ant bodies where fungi can be widely distributed is essential for these fungi.

"In the late summer and early fall there are both leaves and twigs everywhere the ants reside," said Raquel G. Loreto, postdoctoral scholar in entomology, Penn State. "But in temperate areas the trees are deciduous and lose their leaves in the fall. There, the ants bite onto twigs."


Tropical forests are almost completely...
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