Attine ants cultivate a specific fungus symbiont (Leucoagaricus) in so-called “fungus gardens.” The symbiont and its associated bacteria in the fungus are cultivated by the ants using plant biomass and subsequently consumed. The cultivar fungus is parasitized by various specific and opportunistic pathogens that are combated using antibiotic-producing bacteria housed on the ants’ bodies. Together, these direct and indirect interactions define a simple interaction network where the ecological roles of each partner are well-defined and provide context for evolutionary analyses. This project uses model, low-diversity Attine ant fungus garden ecosystems to reveal how microbial community diversity and interaction network structure promote the efficiency of ecosystem functions like biomass breakdown, characterize these interactions at the molecular level and exploit them for natural product discovery. Attine ant symbiosis is a well-established model to study microbial community ecology and its role in biomass degradation. Researchers also seek to understand how interaction networks are locally adapted and contribute to efficient carbon and nitrogen cycling.
Proposer’s Name: Jonathan Klassen, University of Connecticut