Zombie fungi in the tropics: Hyperparasites of zombie-ant fungi


Ophiocordyceps unilateralis (sensu lato) is an entomopathogenic fungus (zombie fungus) that infects ants (mostly Camponotini) and manipulates the behavior of the ant host for their own benefit. Only recently it was discovered that these fungi themselves are, in turn, can be infected by another fungus. This is an example of a hyperparasitic relationship. Two species in as many genera have been described from the American tropics: Niveomyces coronatus and Torrubiellomyces zombiae.


In southeastern Asia, these Ophiocordyceps-associated hyperparasites have not yet been studied. Several samples of fungal hyperparasites of Ophiocordyceps unilateralis were collected during standardized fieldwork in Malaysian Borneo. Given the poor state of knowledge of fungal hyperparasites in general and these ones in particular, their identification is unknown.


The student who takes on this Master thesis project will identify and describe these hyperparasitic fungi based on an integrative taxonomy approach. DNA will be extracted, sequences will be generated of genomic regions that are informative at the species level, multilocus phylogenetic reconstructions will be inferred, and morphological descriptions will be prepared. This work will result in a better understanding of the diversity of Ophiocordyceps-associated hyperparasites around the world, and may lead to the description of new species and genera. The student will become familiar with molecular laboratory techniques, integrative fungal taxonomy, and morphological species descriptions. Provided the low number of available samples, there are opportunities to develop another line of research with other Bornean collections, or to describe a hyperparasitic fungus associated with bat flies in northern Africa—broadening the general theme of the Master thesis to “diversity of poorly studied, hyperparasitic fungal taxa”.

This Master thesis project will be co-supervised by PhD student Frederik De Wint, affiliated with the Institute of Entomology, Biology Centre of the Czech Academy of Sciences (České Budějovice, Czech Republic).


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Araújo JPM, Lebert BM, Vermeulen S, Brachmann A, Ohm RA, Evans HC, de Bekker C. 2022. Masters of the manipulator: two new hypocrealean genera, Niveomyces (Cordycipitaceae) and Torrubiellomyces (Ophiocordycipitaceae), parasitic on the zombie ant fungus Ophiocordyceps camponoti-floridani. Persoonia 49: 171-194. https://doi.org/10.3767/persoonia.2022.49.05

Begerow D, Nilsson H, Unterseher M, Maier W. 2010. Current state and perspectives of fungal DNA barcoding and rapid identification procedures. Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology 87: 99-108. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00253-010-2585-4 [pdf]

Bermúdez-Cova MA, Haelewaters D, de Bekker C, Piepenbring M, Schoutteten N, Quandt CA. 2023. Hyperparasitic fungi—definitions, diversity, ecology, and research. Authorea. https://doi.org/10.22541/au.168787020.07281183/v1