Staff – Department of Biology - University of Copenhagen

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The origin of the chemical profiles of fungal symbionts and their significance for nestmate recognition in Acromyrmex leaf-cutting ants

Research output: Research - peer-reviewJournal article

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Freddie-Jeanne Richard, Michael Poulsen, Abraham Hefetz, Christine Errard, David Nash, Jacobus Boomsma

Cuticular hydrocarbon profiles are essential for nestmate recognition in insect societies, and quantitative variation in these recognition cues is both environmentally and genetically determined. Environmental cues are normally derived from food or nest material, but an exceptional situation may exist in the fungus-growing ants where the symbiotic fungus garden may be an independent source of recognition compounds. To investigate this hypothesis, we quantified the chemical profiles of the fungal symbionts of 18 sympatric colonies of Acromyrmex echinatior and Acromyrmex octospinosus and evaluated the quantitative variation of the 47 compounds in a multivariate analysis. Colony-specific chemical profiles of fungal symbionts were highly distinct and significantly different between the two ant species. We also estimated the relative genetic distances between the fungal symbionts using amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP) and correlated these with the overall (Mahalanobis) chemical distances between the colony-specific profiles. Despite the standardized laboratory conditions, the correlations were generally weak, but a statistically significant portion of the total variation in chemical profiles could be explained by genetic differences between the fungal symbionts. However, there was no significant effect of ant species in partial analyses because genetic differences between symbionts tend to coincide with being reared by different ant species. However, compound groups differed significantly with amides, aldehydes, and methyl esters contributing to the correlations, but acetates, alkanes, and formates being unrelated to genetic variation among symbionts. We show experimentally that workers that are previously exposed to and fed with the fungal symbiont of another colony are met with less aggression when they are later introduced into that colony. It appears, therefore, that fungus gardens are an independent and significant source of chemical compounds, potentially contributing a richer and more abundant blend of recognition cues to the colony ¿gestalt¿ than the innate chemical profile of the ants alone.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Volume61
Issue number11
Pages (from-to)1637-1649
Number of pages13
ISSN0340-5443
DOIs
StatePublished - 2007

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