Ancient tripartite coevolution in the attine ant-microbe symbiosis

Science. 2003 Jan 17;299(5605):386-8. doi: 10.1126/science.1078155.


The symbiosis between fungus-growing ants and the fungi they cultivate for food has been shaped by 50 million years of coevolution. Phylogenetic analyses indicate that this long coevolutionary history includes a third symbiont lineage: specialized microfungal parasites of the ants' fungus gardens. At ancient levels, the phylogenies of the three symbionts are perfectly congruent, revealing that the ant-microbe symbiosis is the product of tripartite coevolution between the farming ants, their cultivars, and the garden parasites. At recent phylogenetic levels, coevolution has been punctuated by occasional host-switching by the parasite, thus intensifying continuous coadaptation between symbionts in a tripartite arms race.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Agaricales / growth & development
  • Agaricales / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Ants / microbiology
  • Ants / physiology*
  • Ascomycota / physiology
  • Bacterial Physiological Phenomena
  • Biological Evolution*
  • DNA, Fungal / analysis
  • DNA, Fungal / genetics
  • Hypocreales / classification
  • Hypocreales / growth & development
  • Hypocreales / isolation & purification
  • Hypocreales / physiology*
  • Phylogeny
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Symbiosis*


  • DNA, Fungal