Because of their ecological characteristics, slow growth rates and the presence of contaminants,
Chaetothyriales fungi associated with structures built by tropical plant-ants can be
difficult to isolate with standard procedures. Here, we describe an easy-to-use protocol for
obtaining pure cultures by using cotton as a first substrate. We have further found by means
of fluorescent stains that nuclei concentrate either in young hyphae or in the tips of the
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Symbioses between plants and fungi, fungi and ants, and ants and plants all play important roles in ecosystems. Symbioses involving all three partners appear to be rare. Here, we describe a novel tripartite symbiosis in which ants and a fungus inhabit domatia of an ant-plant, and present evidence that such interactions are widespread. We investigated 139 individuals of the African ant-plant Leonardoxa africana for occurrence of fungus. Behaviour of mutualist ants toward the fungus within domatia was observed using a video camera fitted with an endoscope. Fungi were identified by sequencing a fragment of their ribosomal DNA. Fungi were always present in domatia occupied by mutualist ants but never in domatia occupied by opportunistic or parasitic ants. Ants appear to favour the propagation, removal and maintenance of the fungus. Similar fungi were associated with other ant-plants in Cameroon. All belong to the ascomycete order Chaetothyriales; those from L. africana formed a monophyletic clade. These new plant-ant-fungus associations seem to be specific, as demonstrated within Leonardoxa and as suggested by fungal phyletic identities. Such tripartite associations are widespread in African ant-plants but have long been overlooked. Taking fungal partners into account will greatly enhance our understanding of symbiotic ant-plant mutualisms.
New Phytologist 04/2009; 182(4):942-9. DOI:10.1111/j.1469-8137.2009.02793.x · 7.67 Impact Factor
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Apart from growing fungi for nutrition, as seen in the New World Attini, ants cultivate fungi for reinforcement of the walls of their nests or tunnel-shaped runway galleries. These fungi are grown on organic material such as bark, epiphylls or trichomes, and form stable 'carton structures'. In this study, the carton of the runway galleries built by Azteca brevis (Formicidae, Dolichoderinae) on branches of Tetrathylacium macrophyllum (Flacourtiaceae) is investigated. For the first time, molecular tools are used to address the biodiversity and phylogenetic affinities of fungi involved in tropical ant carton architecture, a previously neglected ant-fungus mutualism. The A. brevis carton involves a complex association of several fungi. All the isolated fungi were unequivocally placed within the Chaetothyriales by DNA sequence data. Whereas five types of fungal hyphae were morphologically distinguishable, our DNA data showed that more species are involved, applying a phylogenetic species concept based on DNA phylogenies and hyphal morphology. In contrast to the New World Attini with their many-to-one (different ant species-one fungal cultivar) pattern, and temperate Lasius with a one-to-two (one ant species-two mutualists) or many-to-one (different ant species share the same mutualist) system, the A. brevis-fungi association is a one-to-many multi-species network. Vertical fungus transmission has not yet been found, indicating that the A. brevis-fungi interaction is rather generalized.
Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 07/2009; 276(1671):3265-73. DOI:10.1098/rspb.2009.0768 · 5.05 Impact Factor
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Rock surfaces are unique terrestrial habitats in which rapid changes in the intensity of radiation, temperature, water supply and nutrient availability challenge the survival of microbes. A specialised, but diverse group of free-living, melanised fungi are amongst the persistent settlers of bare rocks. Multigene phylogenetic analyses were used to study relationships of ascomycetes from a variety of substrates, with a dataset including a broad sampling of rock dwellers from different geographical locations. Rock-inhabiting fungi appear particularly diverse in the early diverging lineages of the orders Chaetothyriales and Verrucariales. Although these orders share a most recent common ancestor, their lifestyles are strikingly different. Verrucariales are mostly lichen-forming fungi, while Chaetothyriales, by contrast, are best known as opportunistic pathogens of vertebrates (e.g. Cladophialophora bantiana and Exophiala dermatitidis, both agents of fatal brain infections) and saprophytes. The rock-dwelling habit is shown here to be key to the evolution of these two ecologically disparate orders. The most recent common ancestor of Verrucariales and Chaetothyriales is reconstructed as a non-lichenised rock-inhabitant. Ancestral state reconstructions suggest Verrucariales as one of the independent ascomycetes group where lichenisation has evolved on a hostile rock surface that might have favored this shift to a symbiotic lifestyle. Rock-inhabiting fungi are also ancestral to opportunistic pathogens, as they are found in the early diverging lineages of Chaetothyriales. In Chaetothyriales and Verrucariales, specific morphological and physiological traits (here referred to as extremotolerance) evolved in response to stresses in extreme conditions prevailing on rock surfaces. These factors facilitated colonisation of various substrates including the brains of vertebrates by opportunistic fungal pathogens, as well as helped establishment of a stable lichen symbiosis.
Studies in Mycology 02/2008; 61:111-9. DOI:10.3114/sim.2008.61.11 · 13.25 Impact Factor
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