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Volume 2012, Article ID 239392, 10 pages
Review Article

Towards a Better Understanding of the Evolution of Specialized Parasites of Fungus-Growing Ant Crops

Centre for Social Evolution, Department of Biology, University of Copenhagen, Universitetsparken 15, 2100 Copenhagen, Denmark

Received 5 October 2011; Accepted 12 December 2011

Academic Editor: Alain Lenoir

Copyright © 2012 Sze Huei Yek et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Fungus-growing ants have interacted and partly coevolved with specialised microfungal parasites of the genus Escovopsis since the origin of ant fungiculture about 50 million years ago. Here, we review the recent progress in understanding the patterns of specificity of this ant-parasite association, covering both the colony/population level and comparisons between phylogenetic clades. We use a modified version of Tinbergen's four categories of evolutionary questions to structure our review in complementary approaches addressing both proximate questions of development and mechanism, and ultimate questions of (co)adaptation and evolutionary history. Using the same scheme, we identify future research questions that are likely to be particularly illuminating for understanding the ecology and evolution of Escovopsis parasitism of the cultivar maintained by fungus-growing ants.