Evidence for convergent evolution of host parasitic manipulation in response to environmental conditions
Environmental conditions exert strong selection on animal behavior. We tested the hypothesis that the altered behavior of hosts due to parasitic manipulation is also subject to selection imposed by changes in environmental conditions over time. Our model system is ants manipulated by parasitic fungi to bite onto vegetation. We analyzed the correlation between forest type (tropical vs. temperate) and biting substrate (leaf vs. twigs), the time required for the fungi to reach reproductive maturity, and the phylogenetic relationship among specimens from tropical and temperate forests in different parts of the globe. We show that the fungal development in temperate forest is longer than the period of time leaves are present and the ants are manipulated to bite twigs. When biting twigs, 90% of the we examined dead ants had their legs wrapped around twigs, which appears to provide better attachment to the plant. Ancestral state character reconstruction suggests that the leaf biting is the ancestral trait and that twig biting is a convergent trait in temperate regions of the globe. These three lines of evidence suggest that changes in environmental conditions have shaped the manipulative behavior of the host by its parasite.
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