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Ants have evolved to farm plants on at least 15 separate occasions

Many species of tree-living ants cultivate plants that grow on trees either for food or shelter, but there is a debate over whether the practice should be considered agriculture

Life 10 November 2022

Ant on a small plant

Philidris cordata ants have a symbiotic relationship with Hydnophytum formicarum plants

Emanuele Biggi / naturepl.com

The cultivation of plants by ants is more widespread than previously realised, and has evolved on at least 15 separate occasions.

There are more than 200 species of ants in the Americas that farm fungi for food, but this trait evolved just once sometime between 45 million and 65 million years ago. Biologists regard the cultivation of fungi by ants as true agriculture long predating human agriculture because it meets four criteria: the ants plant the fungus, care for …