[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Bacterial communities are highly diverse and have great ecological importance. In the present study, we used an in silico analysis of terminal restriction fragments (tRF) to characterize the bacterial community of the plant ant Pseudomyrmex ferrugineus. This species is an obligate inhabitant of Acacia myrmecophytes and feeds exclusively on plant-derived food sources. Ants are the dominant insect group in tropical rain forests. Associations of ants with microbes, which contribute particularly to the ants' nitrogen nutrition, could allow these insects to live on mostly or entirely plant-based diets and could thus contribute to the explanation of the high abundances that are reached by tropical ants. We found tRF patterns representing at least 30 prokaryotic taxa, of which the Acidobacteria, Actinobacteria, Bacteroidetes, Firmicutes, Planctomycetes, Proteobacteria, and Spirochaetes comprised 93%. Because most bacterial taxa were found in all ant-derived samples studied and because the bacteria detected on the ants' host plant revealed little overlap with this community, we regard our results as reliably representing the bacterial community that is associated with P. ferrugineus. Genera with a likely function as ant symbionts were Burkholderia, Pantoea, Weissella, and several members of the Enterobacteriaceae. The presence of these and various other groups was confirmed via independent PCR and cultivation approaches. Many of the bacteria that we detected belong to purportedly N-fixing taxa. Bacteria may represent important further partners in ant-plant mutualisms, and their influences on ant nutrition can contribute to the extraordinary abundance and evolutionary success of tropical arboreal ants.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Oecophylla ants are sold at high prices on several commercial markets as a human delicacy, as pet food or as traditional medicine. Currently markets are supplied by ants collected from the wild; however, an increasing interest in ant farming exists as all harvest is easily sold and as ant farming can be combined with the use of the ants in biological control programmes in tropical plantations where pest insects are converted into ant biomass. To assess the cost-benefits of ant farming based on artificial feeding, food consumption and food conversion efficiency (ECI) of Oecophylla smaragdina (Fabricius) was tested under laboratory conditions. Of the two types of food offered, the ants ingested 76% pure sucrose and 24% insect prey (dry weights) leading to ECI’s of 29% and 39% including brood only or brood plus imago gain, respectively. Based on Thai sugar and protein food costs and ant brood selling prices these efficiencies led to rates of return from 1.52 to 4.56, respectively, if: (i) protein is supplied from commercial products; or (ii) alternatively supplied from free sources such as insects and kitchen waste. These results suggest that Oecophylla ant farming may become highly profitable and deserves further research.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: We are only beginning to understand the depth and breadth of microbial associations across the eukaryotic tree of life. Reliably assessing bacterial diversity is a key challenge and next-generation sequencing approaches are facilitating this endeavor. Here, we used 16S rRNA amplicon pyrosequencing to survey microbial diversity in ants. We compared 454 libraries with those from Sanger sequenced clone libraries as well as cultivation of live bacteria. Pyrosequencing yielded 95,656 bacterial 16S rRNA reads from 19 samples derived from four colonies of one ant species. The most dominant bacterial orders in the microbiome of the turtle ant Cephalotes varians were Rhizobiales, Burkholderiales, Opitutales, Xanthomonadales, and Campylobacterales as revealed through both 454 sequencing and cloning. Even after stringent quality filtering, pyrosequencing recovered 445 microbe OTUs not detected with traditional techniques. In comparing bacterial communities associated with specific tissues, we found that gut tissues had significantly higher diversity than non-gut tissues and many of the OTUs identified from these groups clustered within ant specific lineages indicating a deep coevolutionary history of Cephalotes ants and their associated microbes. These lineages likely function as nutritional symbionts. One of four ant colonies investigated was infected with a Spiroplasma sp. (order Entomoplasmatales), a potential ant pathogen. Our work shows that the microbiome associated with Cephalotes varians is dominated by a few dozen bacterial lineages, and that 454 sequencing is a cost efficient tool to screen ant symbiont diversity.
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