The Evolution of Agriculture in Ants

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Science  25 Sep 1998:
Vol. 281, Issue 5385, pp. 2034-2038
DOI: 10.1126/science.281.5385.2034

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Cultivation of fungi for food by fungus-growing ants (Attini: Formicidae) originated about 50 million years ago. The subsequent evolutionary history of this agricultural symbiosis was inferred from phylogenetic and population-genetic patterns of 553 cultivars isolated from gardens of “primitive” fungus-growing ants. These patterns indicate that fungus-growing ants succeeded at domesticating multiple cultivars, that the ants are capable of switching to novel cultivars, that single ant species farm a diversity of cultivars, and that cultivars are shared occasionally between distantly related ant species, probably by lateral transfer between ant colonies.

  • * To whom correspondence should be addressed at the University of Maryland (e-mail: um3{at} or the Smithsonian Institution (e-mail: schultz{at}

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