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The Evolutionary Innovation of Nutritional Symbioses in Leaf-Cutter Ants
Department of Bacteriology, Microbial Sciences Building, 1550 Linden Drive, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI 53706, USA
Department of Energy Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, 1550 Linden Drive, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI 53706, USA
* Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 3 December 2011; in revised form: 16 December 2011 / Accepted: 20 December 2011 / Published: 6 January 2012
Abstract: Fungus-growing ants gain access to nutrients stored in plant biomass through their association with a mutualistic fungus they grow for food. This 50 million-year-old obligate mutualism likely facilitated some of these species becoming dominant Neotropical herbivores that can achieve immense colony sizes. Recent culture-independent investigations have shed light on the conversion of plant biomass into nutrients within ant fungus gardens, revealing that this process involves both the fungal cultivar and a symbiotic community of bacteria including Enterobacter, Klebsiella, and Pantoea species. Moreover, the genome sequences of the leaf-cutter ants Atta cephalotes and Acromyrmex echinatior have provided key insights into how this symbiosis has shaped the evolution of these ants at a genetic level. Here we summarize the findings of recent research on the microbial community dynamics within fungus-growing ant fungus gardens and discuss their implications for this ancient symbiosis.
Keywords: symbiosis; attine ants; Leucoagaricus; co-evolution; microbial consortia
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Cite This Article
MDPI and ACS Style
Aylward, F.O.; Currie, C.R.; Suen, G. The Evolutionary Innovation of Nutritional Symbioses in Leaf-Cutter Ants. Insects 2012, 3, 41-61.
Aylward FO, Currie CR, Suen G. The Evolutionary Innovation of Nutritional Symbioses in Leaf-Cutter Ants. Insects. 2012; 3(1):41-61.
Aylward, Frank O.; Currie, Cameron R.; Suen, Garret. 2012. "The Evolutionary Innovation of Nutritional Symbioses in Leaf-Cutter Ants." Insects 3, no. 1: 41-61.