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J Evol Biol. 2013 Jun;26(6):1353-62. doi: 10.1111/jeb.12140. Epub 2013 May 3.

Co-evolutionary patterns and diversification of ant-fungus associations in the asexual fungus-farming ant Mycocepurus smithii in Panama.

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1
Section of Integrative Biology, Patterson Laboratories, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX 75799, USA. antkatrina@gmail.com

Abstract

Partner fidelity through vertical symbiont transmission is thought to be the primary mechanism stabilizing cooperation in the mutualism between fungus-farming (attine) ants and their cultivated fungal symbionts. An alternate or additional mechanism could be adaptive partner or symbiont choice mediating horizontal cultivar transmission or de novo domestication of free-living fungi. Using microsatellite genotyping for the attine ant Mycocepurus smithii and ITS rDNA sequencing for fungal cultivars, we provide the first detailed population genetic analysis of local ant-fungus associations to test for the relative importance of vertical vs. horizontal transmission in a single attine species. M. smithii is the only known asexual attine ant, and it is furthermore exceptional because it cultivates a far greater cultivar diversity than any other attine ant. Cultivar switching could permit the ants to re-acquire cultivars after garden loss, to purge inferior cultivars that are locally mal-adapted or that accumulated deleterious mutations under long-term asexuality. Compared to other attine ants, symbiont choice and local adaptation of ant-fungus combinations may play a more important role than partner-fidelity feedback in the co-evolutionary process of M. smithii and its fungal symbionts.

PMID:
23639137
DOI:
10.1111/jeb.12140
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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