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Insects 2012, 3(1), 41-61; doi:10.3390/insects3010041

The Evolutionary Innovation of Nutritional Symbioses in Leaf-Cutter Ants

1
Department of Bacteriology, Microbial Sciences Building, 1550 Linden Drive, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI 53706, USA
2
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 / Revised: 16 December 2011 / Accepted: 20 December 2011 / Published: 6 January 2012
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Symbiosis: A Source of Evolutionary Innovation in Insects)
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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. View Full-Text
Keywords: symbiosis; attine ants; Leucoagaricus; co-evolution; microbial consortia symbiosis; attine ants; Leucoagaricus; co-evolution; microbial consortia
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY 3.0).

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Aylward, F.O.; Currie, C.R.; Suen, G. The Evolutionary Innovation of Nutritional Symbioses in Leaf-Cutter Ants. Insects 2012, 3, 41-61.

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