Ant-fungus species combinations engineer physiological activity of fungus gardens

The Journal of Experimental Biology
J N SealU G Mueller

Abstract

Fungus-gardening insects are among the most complex organisms because of their extensive co-evolutionary histories with obligate fungal symbionts and other microbes. Some fungus-gardening insect lineages share fungal symbionts with other members of their lineage and thus exhibit diffuse co-evolutionary relationships, while others exhibit little or no symbiont sharing, resulting in host-fungus fidelity. The mechanisms that maintain this symbiont fidelity are currently unknown. Prior work suggested that derived leaf-cutting ants in the genus Atta interact synergistically with leaf-cutter fungi (Attamyces) by exhibiting higher fungal growth rates and enzymatic activities than when growing a fungus from the sister-clade to Attamyces (so-called 'Trachymyces'), grown primarily by the non-leaf cutting Trachymyrmex ants that form, correspondingly, the sister-clade to leaf-cutting ants. To elucidate the enzymatic bases of host-fungus specialization in leaf-cutting ants, we conducted a reciprocal fungus-switch experiment between the ant Atta texana and the ant Trachymyrmex arizonensis and report measured enzymatic activities of switched and sham-switched fungus gardens to digest starch, pectin, xylan, cellulose and casein. Gardens exhibi...Continue Reading

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