Towards an integrated understanding of the consequences of fungus domestication on the fungus-growing termite gut microbiota

Environ Microbiol. 2015 Aug;17(8):2562-72. doi: 10.1111/1462-2920.12765. Epub 2015 Mar 6.


Approximately 30 million years ago (MYA), the subfamily of higher termites Macrotermitinae domesticated a fungus, Termitomyces, as the main plant decomposer and food source for the termite host. The origin of fungiculture shifted the composition of the termite gut microbiota, and some of the functional implications of this shift have recently been established. I review reports on the composition of the Macrotermitinae gut microbiota, evidence for a subfamily core gut microbiota, and the first insight into functional complementarity between fungal and gut symbionts. In addition, I argue that we need to explore the capacities of all members of the symbiotic communities, including better solidifying Termitomyces role(s) in order to understand putative complementary gut bacterial contributions. Approaches that integrate natural history and sequencing data to elucidate symbiont functions will be powerful, particularly if executed in comparative analyses across the well-established congruent termite-fungus phylogenies. This will allow for testing if gut communities have evolved in parallel with their hosts, with implications for our general understanding of the evolution of gut symbiont communities with hosts.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / physiology*
  • Isoptera / microbiology*
  • Phylogeny
  • Plants / metabolism*
  • Symbiosis
  • Termitomyces / physiology*