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Slow seminar no. 27

Fungus-farming termites, their mutualist relationships, and collective assemblages.

2016.09.22 | Mia Korsbæk

Date Mon 14 Nov
Time 15:00 17:30
Location Department of Bioscience, Ny Munkegade 114, building 1540, room K33 (basement).

Dear friends of AURA

We are happy to invite you to the next Slow Seminar, on 14th of November, as we jump into the world of fungus-farming termites, their mutualist relationships, and collective assemblages. The seminar will be held from 15.00-17.00 at Department of Bioscience, Ny Munkegade 114, building 1540, room K33 (basement).

We are lucky to have a special guest in Michael Thomas-Poulsen, a biologist studying the gut microbes of the Macrotermitinae to help guide us through some of the readings. The worlds of termites will be explored through two sets of readings: the first, written in the 1920’s, leans towards the natural history of termites and is considered one of the precursory contributions to the then emerging field of animal studies; the second, includes two contemporary science articles that investigate the relationship between the termites and their gut and mushroom mutualists.   

Eugene Morais’ “The Soul of the White Ant” is an artfully written book (though at times problematic) that emerged out of the author’s genuine curiosity for the non-human world. Morais’ was a lawyer, a poet, and an amateur naturalist. Although primarily remembered by the Afrikaans community in South Africa as a favorite poet in their tradition, his two books – the other being “The Soul of the Ape” – are perhaps his greatest contributions. “The Soul of the White Ant” delves into the worlds of termite colonies that, Morais suggests, can only be understood as collective individuals: that is, rather than single termites the collective colony of termites is the individual. In his elaboration, Morais ranges from a consideration of the fungal gardens cultivated by, and within, the colony functioning as the metabolic system of the collective individual to hypotheses about non-human, non-verbal forms of communication.  Morais not only includes detailed descriptions of his observations, but also reflections on his findings and instructions for the reader interested in observing their own way into the worlds of termites and other non-humans.

This short book will be supplemented by two articles:

·        Poulsen, M. 2015. “Towards an integrated understanding of the consequences of fungus domestication on the fungus-growing termite gut microbiota.”

·        Aanen, D. et al. 2009. “High Symbiont Relatedness Stabilizes Mutualistic Cooperation in Fungus-Growing Termites” in Science 326(20).


For those of you who prefer a hard copy of the book, it is soon available for purchase at Stakbogladen.


Would you write Mia korsbaek@cas.au.dk if you are planning on joining and if you would like to come for dinner after the seminar.


We hope to see many of you at the seminar.