The longevity of colonies of fungus-growing termites and the stability of the symbiosis

Margo Wisselink, Duur K. Aanen*, Anouk van ’t Padje

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


The agricultural mutualistic symbiosis between macrotermitine termites and Termitomyces fungi is obligate for both partners. The termites provide a protective growth environment for the fungus by cultivating it inside their colony and providing it with foraged plant material. The termites use the fungus for plant substrate degradation, and the production of asexual fruiting bodies for nourishment and re-inoculation of the fungus garden. The termite colony can reach an age of up to several decades, during which time it is believed that a single fungal monoculture is asexually propagated by the offspring of a single founding royal pair. The termite-fungus mutualism has a long evolutionary history dating back more than 30 million years. Both on the time-scale of a termite colony lifespan and that of the mutualistic symbiosis, questions arise about stability. We address the physical stability of the mound, the termite colony and the monoculture fungal garden during a colony’s lifetime. On the long-term evolutionary scale, we address the stability of the symbiosis, where horizontal transmission of the symbiotic fungus raises the question of how the mutualistic interaction between host and symbiont persists over generations.

Original languageEnglish
Article number527
Number of pages15
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 13 Aug 2020


  • Cheaters
  • Horizontal transmission
  • Mutation
  • Mutualism
  • Termitomyces


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