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Symbiont-Mediated Protection of Acromyrmex Leaf-Cutter Ants from the Entomopathogenic Fungus Metarhizium anisopliaeCavanaugh, Colleen M. (Ed.)ABSTRACT Many fungus-growing ants engage in a defensive symbiosis with antibiotic-producing ectosymbiotic bacteria in the genus Pseudonocardia , which help protect the ants’ fungal mutualist from a specialized mycoparasite, Escovopsis . Here, using germfree ant rearing and experimental pathogen infection treatments, we evaluate if Acromyrmex ants derive higher immunity to the entomopathogenic fungus Metarhizium anisopliae from their Pseudonocardia symbionts. We further examine the ecological dynamics and defensive capacities of Pseudonocardia against M. anisopliae across seven different Acromyrmex species by controlling Pseudonocardia acquisition using ant-nonnative Pseudonocardia switches, in vitro challenges, and in situ mass spectrometry imaging (MSI). We show that Pseudonocardia protects the ants against M. anisopliae across different Acromyrmex species and appears to afford higher protection than metapleural gland (MG) secretions. Although Acromyrmex echinatior ants with nonnative Pseudonocardia symbionts receive protection from M. anisopliae regardless of the strain acquired compared with Pseudonocardia -free conditions, we find significant variation in the degree of protection conferred by different Pseudonocardia strains. Additionally, when ants were reared in Pseudonocardia -free conditions, some species exhibit more susceptibility to M. anisopliae than others, indicating that some ant species depend more on defensive symbionts than others. In vitro challenge experiments indicate that Pseudonocardia reduces Metarhizium conidiospore germinationmore »
McFall-Ngai, Margaret J. (Ed.)ABSTRACT Herbivores must overcome a variety of plant defenses, including coping with plant secondary compounds (PSCs). To help detoxify these defensive chemicals, several insect herbivores are known to harbor gut microbiota with the metabolic capacity to degrade PSCs. Leaf-cutter ants are generalist herbivores, obtaining sustenance from specialized fungus gardens that act as external digestive systems and which degrade the diverse collection of plants foraged by the ants. There is in vitro evidence that certain PSCs harm Leucoagaricus gongylophorus , the fungal cultivar of leaf-cutter ants, suggesting a role for the Proteobacteria -dominant bacterial community present within fungus gardens. In this study, we investigated the ability of symbiotic bacteria present within fungus gardens of leaf-cutter ants to degrade PSCs. We cultured fungus garden bacteria, sequenced the genomes of 42 isolates, and identified genes involved in PSC degradation, including genes encoding cytochrome P450 enzymes and genes in geraniol, cumate, cinnamate, and α-pinene/limonene degradation pathways. Using metatranscriptomic analysis, we showed that some of these degradation genes are expressed in situ . Most of the bacterial isolates grew unhindered in the presence of PSCs and, using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS), we determined that isolates from the genera Bacillus , Burkholderia , Enterobacter , Klebsiellamore »
Insect societies vary greatly in their social structure, mating biology, and life history. Polygyny, the presence of multiple reproductive queens in a single colony, and polyandry, multiple mating by females, both increase the genetic variability in colonies of eusocial organisms, resulting in potential reproductive conflicts. The co-occurrence of polygyny and polyandry in a single species is rarely observed across eusocial insects, and these traits have been found to be negatively correlated in ants.
Acromyrmexleaf-cutting ants are well-suited for investigating the evolution of complex mating strategies because both polygyny and polyandry co-occur in this genus. We used microsatellite markers and parentage inference in five South American Acromyrmexspecies to study how different selective pressures influence the evolution of polygyny and polyandry. We show that Acromyrmexspecies exhibit independent variation in mating biology and social structure, and polygyny and polyandry are not necessarily negatively correlated within genera. One species, Acromyrmex lobicornis, displays a significantly lower mating frequency compared to others, while another species, A. lundii, appears to have reverted to obligate monogyny. These variations appear to have a small impact on average intra-colonial relatedness, although the biological significance of such a small effect size is unclear. All species show significant reproductive skew between patrilines, but there was no significantmore » Significance statement
Many species of eusocial insects have colonies with multiple queens (polygyny), or queens mating with multiple males (polyandry). Both behaviors generate potentially beneficial genetic diversity in ant colonies as well as reproductive conflict. The co-occurrence of both polygyny and polyandry in a single species is only known from few ant species. Leaf-cutting ants have both multi-queen colonies and multiply mated queens, providing a well-suited system for studying the co-evolutionary dynamics between mating behavior and genetic diversity in colonies of eusocial insects. We used microsatellite markers to infer the socio-reproductive behavior in five South American leaf-cutter ant species. We found that variation in genetic diversity in colonies was directly associated with the mating frequencies of queens, but not with the number of queens in a colony. We suggest that multi-queen nesting and mating frequency evolve independently of one another, indicating that behavioral and ecological factors other than genetic diversity contribute to the evolution of complex mating behaviors in leaf-cutting ants.
Abstract Although calcareous anatomical structures have evolved in diverse animal groups, such structures have been unknown in insects. Here, we report the discovery of high-magnesium calcite [CaMg(CO 3 ) 2 ] armor overlaying the exoskeletons of major workers of the leaf-cutter ant Acromyrmex echinatior . Live-rearing and in vitro synthesis experiments indicate that the biomineral layer accumulates rapidly as ant workers mature, that the layer is continuously distributed, covering nearly the entire integument, and that the ant epicuticle catalyzes biomineral nucleation and growth. In situ nanoindentation demonstrates that the biomineral layer significantly hardens the exoskeleton. Increased survival of ant workers with biomineralized exoskeletons during aggressive encounters with other ants and reduced infection by entomopathogenic fungi demonstrate the protective role of the biomineral layer. The discovery of biogenic high-magnesium calcite in the relatively well-studied leaf-cutting ants suggests that calcareous biominerals enriched in magnesium may be more common in metazoans than previously recognized.
ABSTRACT During flash floods, fire ants (Solenopsis invicta Buren) link their bodies together to build rafts to stay afloat, and towers to anchor onto floating vegetation. Can such challenging conditions facilitate synchronization and coordination, resulting in energy savings per capita? To understand how stress affects metabolic rate, we used constant-volume respirometry to measure the metabolism of fire ant workers. Group metabolic rates were measured in a series of conditions: at normal state, at three elevated temperatures, during rafting, and during tower-building. We hypothesized that the metabolic rate of ants at various temperatures would scale isometrically (proportionally with the group mass). Indeed, we found metabolic rates scaled isometrically under all temperature conditions, giving evidence that groups of ants differ from entire colonies, which scale allometrically. We then hypothesized that the metabolism of ants engaged in rafting and tower-building would scale allometrically. We found partial evidence for this hypothesis: ants rafting for short times had allometric metabolic rates, but this effect vanished after 30 min. Rafting for long times and tower-building both scaled isometrically. Tower-building consumed the same energy per capita as ants in their normal state. Rafting ants consumed almost 43% more energy than ants in their normal state, with smaller raftsmore »