Oligocene termite nests with in situ fungus gardens from the rukwa rift basin, Tanzania, support a paleogene african origin for insect agriculture

Eric M. Roberts, Christopher N. Todd, Duur K. Aanen, Tania Nobre, Hannah L. Hilbert-Wolf, Patrick M. O'Connor, Leif Tapanila, Cassy Mtelela, Nancy J. Stevens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Based on molecular dating, the origin of insect agriculture is hypothesized to have taken place independently in three clades of fungus-farming insects: the termites, ants or ambrosia beetles during the Paleogene (66-24 Ma). Yet, definitive fossil evidence of fungus-growing behavior has been elusive, with no unequivocal records prior to the late Miocene (7-10 Ma). Here we report fossil evidence of insect agriculture in the form of fossil fungus gardens, preserved within 25 Ma termite nests from southwestern Tanzania. Using these well-dated fossil fungus gardens, we have recalibrated molecular divergence estimates for the origins of termite agriculture to around 31 Ma, lending support to hypotheses suggesting an African Paleogene origin for termite-fungus symbiosis; perhaps coinciding with rift initiation and changes in the African landscape.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0156847
JournalPLoS ONE
Volume11
Issue number6
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2016

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