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Science. 2009 Nov 20;326(5956):1120-3. doi: 10.1126/science.1173036.

Symbiotic nitrogen fixation in the fungus gardens of leaf-cutter ants.

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  • 1Department of Bacteriology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1550 Linden Drive, Madison, WI 53706, USA.

Abstract

Bacteria-mediated acquisition of atmospheric N2 serves as a critical source of nitrogen in terrestrial ecosystems. Here we reveal that symbiotic nitrogen fixation facilitates the cultivation of specialized fungal crops by leaf-cutter ants. By using acetylene reduction and stable isotope experiments, we demonstrated that N2 fixation occurred in the fungus gardens of eight leaf-cutter ant species and, further, that this fixed nitrogen was incorporated into ant biomass. Symbiotic N2-fixing bacteria were consistently isolated from the fungus gardens of 80 leaf-cutter ant colonies collected in Argentina, Costa Rica, and Panama. The discovery of N2 fixation within the leaf-cutter ant-microbe symbiosis reveals a previously unrecognized nitrogen source in neotropical ecosystems.

PMID:
19965433
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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