Ant farmers practice proactive personal hygiene to protect their fungus crop

Morelos-Juárez, Citlalli, Walker, Thomas N, Lopes, Juliane F S and Hughes, William (2010) Ant farmers practice proactive personal hygiene to protect their fungus crop. Current Biology, 20 (13). R553-4. ISSN 0960-9822

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Agricultural systems often involve monocultures that are vulnerable to competitors and pathogens. Successful agriculture, therefore, relies on preventing the contamination of the crop by detrimental organisms or on removing such organisms. The fungus-growing ants exhibit one of the most ancient forms of agriculture, farming a clonal fungal crop that is highly susceptible to competitive and pathogenic microorganisms [1] and [2]. Like human farmers, the ants have a suite of reactive and prophylactic defence mechanisms, including the application of pesticides and weeding [3], [4] and [5]. Here, we show that fungus-growing ants also engage in proactive self-cleaning behaviour to remove undetected microbes and prevent them from contaminating the vulnerable fungal crop. Although many social animals show reactive hygiene, the behaviour detailed here is proactive and a response to the detection of vulnerable individuals rather than the threat itself.

Item Type: Article
Schools and Departments: School of Life Sciences > Evolution, Behaviour and Environment
Subjects: Q Science
Depositing User: Deeptima Massey
Date Deposited: 30 Oct 2012 10:29
Last Modified: 31 Jul 2013 08:41
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