Pepijn W. Kooij

2019-08-07

 

Fungal favourites [link]

 

KATIE AVIS-RIORDAN

 

Leaf-cutting ant fungus (Leucoagaricus gongylophorus)

Dr Pepijn Kooij, Early Career Research Fellow, Comparative Plant and Fungal Biology

 

'Ever since I was little, I have been intrigued by leaf-cutting ants.

 

'At the zoo I used to visit as a kid with my family they had a colony on display with the ants walking through glass tubes carrying their leaves. You could find me staring at these ants busy working.

 

'The ants don’t actually eat the leaves, they eat a fungus that grows on the leaves. In return, they provide the fungus with protection, a stable food source and way to distribute (the ants bring the fungus to start new colonies).

 

'This is what we scientists call mutualism. Both the ant and the fungus benefit from living together. Even though these ants are commonly known as fungus-growing ants, I like to think that it is an ant-growing fungus.

 

'The fungus feeds the ants sugars and lipids to live but also mixes in enzymes that are necessary to digest the plant material. The fungus then (kind of) directs the ants to poo out the enzymes onto the new leaves that they bring.'

©Copyright 2020 Pepijn Kooij