Metabolism And The Rise Of Fungus Cultivation By Ants
MetadataShow full item record
Most ant colonies are comprised of workers that cooperate to harvest resources and feed developing larvae. Around 50 million years ago (MYA), ants of the attine lineage adopted an alternative strategy, harvesting resources used as compost to produce fungal gardens. While fungus cultivation is considered a major breakthrough in ant evolution, the associated ecological consequences remain poorly understood. Here, we compare the energetics of attine colony-farms and ancestral hunter-gatherer colonies using metabolic scaling principles within a phylogenetic context. We find two major energetic transitions. First, the earliest lower-attine farmers transitioned to lower mass-specific metabolic rates while shifting significant fractions of biomass from ant tissue to fungus gardens. Second, a transition 20 MYA to specialized cultivars in the higher-attine clade was associated with increased colony metabolism (without changes in garden fungal content) and with metabolic scaling nearly identical to hypometry observed in hunter-gatherer ants, although only the hunter-gatherer slope was distinguishable from isometry. Based on these evolutionary transitions, we propose that shifting living-tissue storage from ants to fungal mutualists provided energetic storage advantages contributing to attine diversification and outline critical assumptions that, when tested, will help link metabolism, farming efficiency, and colony fitness.