BackgroundMicroorganisms are a large and diverse form of life. Many of them live in association with large multicellular organisms, developing symbiotic relations with the host and some have even evolved to form obligate endosymbiosis . All Carpenter ants (genus Camponotus) studied hitherto harbour primary endosymbiotic bacteria of the Blochmannia genus. The role of these bacteria in ant nutrition has been demonstrated  but the omnivorous diet of these ants lead us to hypothesize that the bacteria might provide additional advantages to their host. In this study, we establish links between Blochmannia, growth of starting new colonies and the host immune response.ResultsWe manipulated the number of bacterial endosymbionts in incipient laboratory-reared colonies of Camponotus fellah by administrating doses of an antibiotic (Rifampin) mixed in honey-solution. Efficiency of the treatment was estimated by quantitative polymerase chain reaction and Fluorescent in situ hybridization (FISH), using Blochmannia specific primers (qPCR) and two fluorescent probes (one for all Eubacterial and other specific for Blochmannia). Very few or no bacteria could be detected in treated ants. Incipient Rifampin treated colonies had significantly lower numbers of brood and adult workers than control colonies. The immune response of ants from control and treated colonies was estimated by inserting nylon filaments in the gaster and removing it after 24 h. In the control colonies, the encapsulation response was positively correlated to the bacterial amount, while no correlation was observed in treated colonies. Indeed, antibiotic treatment increased the encapsulation response of the workers, probably due to stress conditions.ConclusionThe increased growth rate observed in non-treated colonies confirms the importance of Blochmannia in this phase of colony development. This would provide an important selective advantage during colony founding, where the colonies are faced with severe inter and intraspecific competition. Furthermore, the bacteria improve the workers encapsulation response. Thus, these ants are likely to be less susceptible to various pathogen attacks, such as the Phoridae fly parasitoids, normally found in the vicinity of Camponotus nests. These advantages might explain the remarkable ecological success of this ant genus, comprising more than 1000 species.
The grass-cutting ant Atta bisphaerica is one of the most serious pests in several pastures and crops in Brazil. Fungal diseases are a constant threat to these large societies composed of millions of closely related individuals. We investigated the occurrence of filamentous fungi associated with the ant A. bisphaerica in a pasture area of Viçosa, Minas Gerais State, Brazil. Several fungi species were isolated from forager ants, and two of them, known as entomopathogenic, Beauveria bassiana and Aspergillus ochraceus, were tested against worker ants in the laboratory. The two species were highly virulent, achieving 50 percent worker mortality within 4-5 days. It is the first time A. ochraceus, a commonly found fungal species, is reported to infect Atta species at a high prevalence. Possible uses for the fungus within biological control are discussed.
Associations with symbiotic organisms can serve as a strategy for social insects to resist pathogens. Antibiotics produced by attine ectosymbionts (Actinobacteria) suppress the growth of Escovopsis spp., the specialized parasite of attine fungus gardens. Our objective was to evaluate whether the presence or absence of symbiotic actinobacteria covering the whole ant cuticle is related to differential immunocompetence, respiratory rate and cuticular hydrocarbons (CHs). We evaluated these parameters in three worker groups of Acromyrmex subterraneus subterraneus: External workers (EXT), internal workers with actinobacteria covering the whole body (INB) and internal workers without actinobacteria covering the whole body (INØ). We also eliminated the actinobacteria by antibiotic treatment and examined worker encapsulation response. INB ants showed lower rates of encapsulation and respiration than did the EXT and INØ ants. The lower encapsulation rate did not seem to be a cost imposed by actinomycetes because the elimination of the actinomycetes did not increase the encapsulation rate. Instead, we propose that actinobacteria confer protection to young workers until the maturation of their immune system. Actinobacteria do not seem to change nestmate recognition in these colonies. Although it is known that actinobacteria have a specific action against Escovopsis spp., our studies, along with other independent studies, indicate that actinomycetes may also be important for the individual health of the workers.
The fungus-growing ants (Tribe Attini) are a New World group of > 200 species, all obligate symbionts with a fungus they use for food. Four attine taxa are known to be social parasites of other attines. Acromyrmex (Pseudoatta) argentina argentina and Acromyrmex (Pseudoatta) argentina platensis (parasites of Acromyrmex lundi), and Acromyrmex sp. (a parasite of Acromyrmex rugosus) produce no worker caste. In contrast, the recently discovered Acromyrmex insinuator (a parasite of Acromyrmex echinatior) does produce workers. Here, we describe a new species, Acromyrmex ameliae, a social parasite of Acromyrmex subterraneus subterraneus and Acromyrmex subterraneus brunneus in Minas Gerais, Brasil. Like A. insinuator, it produces workers and appears to be closely related to its hosts. Similar social parasites may be fairly common in the fungus-growing ants, but overlooked due to the close resemblance between parasite and host workers.
Spatiotemporal dynamics studies of crop pests enable the determination of the colonization pattern and dispersion of these insects in the landscape. Geostatistics is an efficient tool for these studies: to determine the spatial distribution pattern of the pest in the crops and to make maps that represent this situation. Analysis of these maps across the development of plants can be used as a tool in precision agriculture programs. Watermelon, Citrullus lanatus (Thunb.) Matsum. and Nakai (Cucurbitales: Cucurbitaceae), is the second most consumed fruit in the world, and the whitefly Bemisia tabaci (Gennadius) (Hemiptera: Aleyrodidae) is one of the most important pests of this crop. Thus, the objective of this work was to determine the spatiotemporal distribution of B. tabaci in commercial watermelon crops using geostatistics. For 2 yr, we monitored adult whitefly densities in eight watermelon crops in a tropical climate region. The location of the samples and other crops in the landscape was georeferenced. Experimental data were submitted to geostatistical analysis. The colonization of B. tabaci had two patterns. In the first, the colonization started at the outermost parts of the crop. In the second, the insects occupied the whole area of the crop since the beginning of cultivation. The maximum distance between sites of watermelon crops in which spatial dependence of B. tabaci densities was observed was 19.69 m. The adult B. tabaci densities in the eight watermelon fields were positively correlated with rainfall and relative humidity, whereas wind speed negatively affected whiteflies population.
Filamentous fungi from the genus Trichoderma are commonly found in soil. They are considered facultative mycoparasites, and are antagonists of other fungi such as the cultivar of leaf-cutting ants (Leucoagaricus gongylophorus). The aim of the present study was to bioprospect Trichoderma spp. from different soils collected from Gurupi, Tocantins, Brazil, for antagonistic effects against the mutualistic fungus of leaf-cutting ants. To isolate filamentous fungi, samples were collected from six locations. Preliminarily, isolates were identified by morphological analysis as belonging to Trichoderma. Trichoderma spp. had their internal transcribed spacer region (ITS) of ribosomal RNA genes (rRNA) sequenced to confirm species-level taxonomy. L. gongylophorus was isolated from a laboratory ant colony. Antagonistic properties of seven isolates of Trichoderma against L. gongylophorus were measured using paired disks in Petri dishes with potato dextrose agar medium (PDA). All Trichoderma isolates inhibited the growth of L. gongylophorus in Petri dishes. Isolate 2 of Trichoderma spirale group exhibited slow mycelial growth in the Petri dish, and a high rate of inhibition against L. gongylophorus. This isolate is a promising fungus for field tests of biological control methods for leaf-cutting ants.
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