Termites in Africa and Asia cultivate fungi of the genus Termitomyces. The fungus is actively farmed by the termites in a monoculture well protected in the termite nest. Theory predicts that long-term cultivation of fungal monocultures, may open the door to less productive mutants, which would ultimately lead to a tragedy of the commons and a potential collapse of the mutualistic symbiosis. Nevertheless, the mutualism between termites and fungi has persisted for milions of years and a single colony can live for multiple decades. In this project I address the following questions:
1. The ecological stability of monoculture. Is the fungus garden of one termite mound indeed a monoculture, not only in space but also over time?
2. Selection of a suboptimal fungal strain in the initial stage. The initial fungal garden will sometimes be a mixed culture.
3. The genetic stability of Termitomyces monocultures.
The primary aim is to understand the evolutionary stability of the mutualism between termites and Termitomyces fungi.
We use experimental evolution, DNA sequencing and in vitro experiments with Termitomyces strains.
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