Abstracts (first author)
Identifying symbiotic gut-bacteria of fungus growing ants and mapping them on the phylogenetic tree
Attine ants are good models for investigating complex biological interactions because every ant family is part of a symbiotic network with at least seven obligate participants: the fungus garden which is their primary food, Escovopsis fungus garden pathogens, cuticular Actinobacteria that produce antibiotics and their black yeast competitors, and two clades of nitrogen-fixing bacteria in gardens. However, there may be many more participants in the gut microbiome, but this community has essentially remained unexplored in spite of further mutualists being likely to occur there due to the highly specialized diets of the ants. We used 16S 454 pyrosequencing to identify gut bacteria in eight Panamanian genera of fungus-growing ants from both field and lab colonies. We complemented these data with FISH microscopy providing insight in the bacterial localization and possible roles of some of these bacteria in the ant-fungus mutualism. Mapping some of the prevalent OTUs on the attine phylogenetic tree showed a number of distinct patterns that appear consistent with major transitions in social and symbiont evolution.