Molecular systematics of the enigmatic attine-ant mutualistic coral mushroom family Pterulaceae
This project will improve our systematic knowledge of the fungus-farming ant mutualistic family Pterulaceae by identifying phylogenetically informative loci and improving taxon sampling.
Left: A free-living Pterula (P. verticillata) from Sarawak (Borneo). Right: Apterostigma collare nest on underside of a palm leaf (Costa Rica). (Photo: Bryn Dentinger)
The attine ant-fungus mutualism is a classic coevolutionary system. Recent evidence suggests one small group of attines in the genus Apterostigma switched fungal cultivars twenty million years ago from gilled to coral mushrooms (Pterulaceae), a remarkable event that remains unexplained. This project will improve our systematic knowledge of the Pterulaceae by identifying phylogenetically informative loci and improving taxon sampling. The results will provide the foundation for a contemporary systematic revision of a poorly known group of fungi, allowing for the formal taxonomic classification of the unusual coral mushroom ant cultivars for the first time.