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February meeting- João Araújo: Zombie Ants in the Brazilian Amazon
February 3, 2021 @ 6:30 pm - 8:00 pm
Postdoctoral Researcher at University of Florida
PhD in Biology at Penn State University
MsC in Biodiversity at Universidade Federal do Amazonas (Feral University of Amazonas)
Bsc in Biology at CES/JF
In the last decade, I have been studying the diversity, ecology and evolution of entomopathogenic fungi. I have focused on those infecting ants, but also worked on several other groups. My focus has been on tropical forests, especially Brazilian Amazon, but also worked in Argentina, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, USA, Ghana, Ethiopia, China and Japan. I have proposed 26 new species of fungi and discovered many interesting aspects on the biology and evolution of these fungi and their hosts.
The Biology behind the Zombie-ant Fungi
The ability to infect insects arose multiple times along the evolution of Fungi. However, none has shown such broad and sophisticated strategies to infect, persist and transmit spores than the so-called “Zombie-Ant Fungi”. These fungi evolved the ability to make their hosts to leave the colony, climb up to a summit position on plant parts and bite onto the substrate. The infected ant remains attached by locking its mandibles into the plant tissue, which is often further reinforced by fungal structures. Few days after the host’s death, the fungus erupts from their bodies to grow structures that will shower spores on the forest floor, eventually infecting new workers that forage on ground. They also developed a broad range of morphologies, adapted likely in response to the host ecology and morphology. In this talk, I will present how these behavior manipulators arose and which strategies they have developed in order to thrive and spread through several species, becoming a diverse fungal group.