Zombie-ant fungi cross continents: II. Myrmecophilous hymenostilboid species and a novel zombie lineage

Mycologia. Nov-Dec 2020;112(6):1138-1170. doi: 10.1080/00275514.2020.1822093. Epub 2020 Nov 4.


Ophiocordyceps species infecting ants are globally distributed, with diversity concentrated in the tropics and decreasing with increasing latitude. Among these myrmecophilous species, the ones exhibiting the ability to manipulate host behavior, the so-called "zombie-ant fungi" of the O. unilateralis clade, have been studied progressively over the last decade. However, we know very little about other myrmecophilous groups, such as species within the Ophiocordyceps subgenus Neocordyceps. Species within this group exhibit Hymenostilbe asexual morphs with the ascospores readily breaking into part-spores and regularly kill their hosts on the forest floor, with few records of behavioral manipulation. Here, we describe five new species of Ophiocordyceps belonging to the subgenus Neocordyceps infecting ants in the rainforests of the Brazilian Amazon and Ghana and analyze their ability to manipulate host behavior. We also propose a new status for a species previously described as a variety, providing its phylogenetic placement for the first time. The species proposed herein can readily be separated using classic taxonomic criteria, and this is further supported by ecological and molecular multiloci data.

Keywords: Hymenostilbe; Neocordyceps; 6 new taxa; Ants; behavior manipulation; cryptic species; multigene phylogeny; zombie-ant fungi.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ants / microbiology*
  • Brazil
  • Ghana
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions*
  • Hypocreales / classification*
  • Hypocreales / genetics*
  • Hypocreales / isolation & purification
  • Male
  • Phylogeny
  • Rainforest
  • Species Specificity
  • Spores, Fungal