In tropical and temperate forests, infested ants spread spores in different ways.
Biologists from Pennsylvania State University have studied the influence of parasitic fungi in different regions: in the Americas and the eastern islands region. It turned out that climatic conditions influenced the adaptation of parasites and the behavior of their victims.
A group of parasitic fungi, Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, infects ants for reproduction. Infected insects climb the leaves of tall plants and die to give life to the fungus, which sprays its spores on the next prey. However, scientists have found that not all infected ants cling to leaves. In forests of a temperate climate, where leaves fall off with the arrival of autumn, one-sided Cordyceps forced ants to bite branches, and even taught some to wrap their legs around the bark for better grip. Ninety percent of zombie ants in temperate forests, scientists estimate, grab branches with their limbs.
Biologists noted that 47 million years ago, parasites were in the territory of modern Germany. During that period, trees did not shed their leaves due to high temperatures, but with the onset of cold weather, plants had to adapt, like mushrooms. According to researchers, in Europe, mushrooms were unable to rearrange the behavior of ants, which is why they died out.
Global distribution of Ophiocordyceps unilateralis / Evolution
Scientists compared the DNA of different species and concluded that the preference for branches over leaves and the ability to cling to them with their feet developed independently of each other.
Associate Professor of Entomology David P. Hughes explained:
“We calculated that the changes in behavior occurred between 20 and 40 million years ago. Due to the scarcity of fossil zombie ants, we cannot be more specific."
Scientists have created an online directory of endangered species. According to him, global warming could wipe out a third of parasitic animals by 2070.