Highly similar microbial communities are shared among related and trophically similar ant species

Kirk E. Anderson, Jacob A. Russell, Corrie S. Moreau, Stefanie Kautz, Karen E. Sullam, Yi Hu, Ursula Basinger, Brendon M. Mott, Norman Buck, Diana E Wheeler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

94 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Ants dominate many terrestrial ecosystems, yet we know little about their nutritional physiology and ecology. While traditionally viewed as predators and scavengers, recent isotopic studies revealed that many dominant ant species are functional herbivores. As with other insects with nitrogen-poor diets, it is hypothesized that these ants rely on symbiotic bacteria for nutritional supplementation. In this study, we used cloning and 16S sequencing to further characterize the bacterial flora of several herbivorous ants, while also examining the beta diversity of bacterial communities within and between ant species from different trophic levels. Through estimating phylogenetic overlap between these communities, we tested the hypothesis that ecologically or phylogenetically similar groups of ants harbor similar microbial flora. Our findings reveal: (i) clear differences in bacterial communities harbored by predatory and herbivorous ants; (ii) notable similarities among communities from distantly related herbivorous ants and (iii) similar communities shared by different predatory army ant species. Focusing on one herbivorous ant tribe, the Cephalotini, we detected five major bacterial taxa that likely represent the core microbiota. Metabolic functions of bacterial relatives suggest that these microbes may play roles in fixing, recycling, or upgrading nitrogen. Overall, our findings reveal that similar microbial communities are harbored by ants from similar trophic niches and, to a greater extent, by related ants from the same colonies, species, genera, and tribes. These trends hint at coevolved histories between ants and microbes, suggesting new possibilities for roles of bacteria in the evolution of both herbivores and carnivores from the ant family Formicidae.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2282-2296
Number of pages15
JournalMolecular Ecology
Volume21
Issue number9
DOIs
StatePublished - May 2012

Fingerprint

Ants
ant
microbial communities
microbial community
Formicidae
Herbivory
microorganisms
bacterial communities
herbivore
flora
Nitrogen
Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
herbivores
Bacteria
bacterium
nitrogen
Microbiota
Recycling
scavenger
bacteria

Keywords

  • bacteria
  • coevolution
  • Formicidae
  • herbivores
  • symbiosis
  • trophic ecology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics

Cite this

Highly similar microbial communities are shared among related and trophically similar ant species. / Anderson, Kirk E.; Russell, Jacob A.; Moreau, Corrie S.; Kautz, Stefanie; Sullam, Karen E.; Hu, Yi; Basinger, Ursula; Mott, Brendon M.; Buck, Norman; Wheeler, Diana E.

In: Molecular Ecology, Vol. 21, No. 9, 05.2012, p. 2282-2296.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Anderson, KE, Russell, JA, Moreau, CS, Kautz, S, Sullam, KE, Hu, Y, Basinger, U, Mott, BM, Buck, N & Wheeler, DE 2012, 'Highly similar microbial communities are shared among related and trophically similar ant species', Molecular Ecology, vol. 21, no. 9, pp. 2282-2296. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-294X.2011.05464.x
Anderson, Kirk E. ; Russell, Jacob A. ; Moreau, Corrie S. ; Kautz, Stefanie ; Sullam, Karen E. ; Hu, Yi ; Basinger, Ursula ; Mott, Brendon M. ; Buck, Norman ; Wheeler, Diana E. / Highly similar microbial communities are shared among related and trophically similar ant species. In: Molecular Ecology. 2012 ; Vol. 21, No. 9. pp. 2282-2296.
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