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Microb Ecol. 2011 May;61(4):821-31. doi: 10.1007/s00248-010-9793-4. Epub 2011 Jan 18.

Bacterial diversity in Solenopsis invicta and Solenopsis geminata ant colonies characterized by 16S amplicon 454 pyrosequencing.

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Section of Integrative Biology, University of Texas at Austin, 2401 Speedway Drive C0930, Austin, TX 78712, USA.


Social insects harbor diverse assemblages of bacterial microbes, which may play a crucial role in the success or failure of biological invasions. The invasive fire ant Solenopsis invicta (Formicidae, Hymenoptera) is a model system for understanding the dynamics of invasive social insects and their biological control. However, little is known about microbes as biotic factors influencing the success or failure of ant invasions. This pilot study is the first attempt to characterize and compare microbial communities associated with the introduced S. invicta and the native Solenopsis geminata in the USA. Using 16S amplicon 454 pyrosequencing, bacterial communities of workers, brood, and soil from nest walls were compared between neighboring S. invicta and S. geminata colonies at Brackenridge Field Laboratory, Austin, Texas, with the aim of identifying potential pathogenic, commensal, or mutualistic microbial associates. Two samples of S. geminata workers showed high counts of Spiroplasma bacteria, a known pathogen or mutualist of other insects. A subsequent analysis using PCR and sequencing confirmed the presence of Spiroplasma in additional colonies of both Solenopsis species. Wolbachia was found in one alate sample of S. geminata, while one brood sample of S. invicta had a high count of Lactococcus. As expected, ant samples from both species showed much lower microbial diversity than the surrounding soil. Both ant species had similar overall bacterial diversities, although little overlap in specific microbes. To properly characterize a single bacterial community associated with a Solenopsis ant sample, rarefaction analyses indicate that it is necessary to obtain 5,000-10,000 sequences. Overall, 16S amplicon 454 pyrosequencing appears to be a cost-effective approach to screen whole microbial diversity associated with invasive ant species.

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