Ophiocordyceps species infecting ants – the so-called zombie-ant fungi – comprise one of the most intriguing and fascinating relationships between microbes and animals. They are widespread within tropical forests worldwide, with relatively few reports from temperate ecosystems. These pathogens possess the ability to manipulate host behaviour in order to increase their own fitness. Depending on the fungal species involved the infected ants are manipulated either to leave the nest to ascend understorey shrubs, to die biting onto vegetation, or descend from the canopy to die at the base of trees. Experimental evidence has demonstrated that the behavioural change aids spore dispersal and thus increases the chances of infection, because of the existing behavioural immunity expressed inside ant colonies that limits fungal development and transmission. Despite their undoubted importance for ecosystem functioning, these fungal pathogens are still poorly documented, especially regarding their diversity, ecology and evolutionary relationships. Here, we describe 15 new species of Ophiocordyceps with hirsutella-like asexual morphs that exclusively infect ants. These form a monophyletic group that we identified in this study as myrmecophilous hirsutelloid species. We also propose new combinations for species previously described as varieties and provide for the first time important morphological and ecological information. The species proposed herein were collected in Brazil, Colombia, USA, Australia and Japan. All species could readily be separated using classic taxonomic criteria, in particular ascospore and asexual morphology.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)