Insights into the biodiversity and causes of distribution of potential entomopathogens associated with leaf-cutting ants

Research Article

Abstract

To our knowledge, this work is the first large-scaled, systematic survey of potential entomopathogens associated with worker ants of several Acromyrmex species. The study was performed at nine sites located in five Phytogeographical Provinces across Argentina. We recorded 28 species of fungi with entomopathogenic behaviour, which infected 24.3% of the 4737 collected ants from 94 colonies. Fusarium oxysporum and F. solani were the most widely distributed, followed by Purpureocillium lilacinum and Beauveria bassiana. The occurrence of species across nests within the same site varied from null to 98%. We did not detect any systematic association between fungi and site, Phytogeographical Province or ant species. Instead the microhabitats that surround each nest appear to play an important role in defining entomopathogen communities. We found that climatic variables like maximum temperature, dew point, and relative humidity helped to account for the distribution of these fungi at the site scale. Besides, colonies from undisturbed sites showed higher abundance of infections with entomopathogens than those from disturbed ones. These results greatly improve the knowledge of the ecology of the filamentous fungi associated with leaf-cutting ants. In addition, we proposed that the combination of the entomopathogen virulence and the resistance of ant colonies may be an important but overlooked effect influencing the diversity of entomopathogens.

Keywords

Acromyrmex Fungal abundance Richness Climatic variables 

Notes

Acknowledgements

We thank National Parks Administration for allowing us to sample in National Parks, and provinces for giving us permission to sample within their jurisdictions, as well as the Meteorological National Service of Argentina for providing us climate data. María Laura Terrone helped with the English version. Ariel Marfetán helped with some sampling collection and identification of some fungal species, and reviewed versions of this manuscript. Alejandra Kenigsten and Enrique Crespo helped with a sampling collection each. We also thank two anonymous reviewers for thoughtful and constructive comments and suggestions concerning this manuscript. Financial support was provided by Grants from the National Agency for Science and Technology Promotion (ANPCyT, PICT START UP 1936) and Quilmes National University (Research Program in Biological Interactions 1009/11), both to P.J.F., and by a Grant from Quilmes National University (Research Support Grant—SAI 2128/2013) to D.G. The authors thank CONICET and ANPCyT.

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Copyright information

© International Union for the Study of Social Insects (IUSSI) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Ants Laboratory, Science and Technology DepartmentQuilmes National University, CONICETBernalArgentina

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