A leaf-cutter ant worker carries a leaf fragment back to her colony by Jarrod Scott
Leaf-cutter ants cut and harvest fresh leaves, which they use to farm a fungus in specialized subterranean garden chambers. This fungus, which serves as the primary food source for the entire colony, can support the growth of millions of workers. In this issue of PLoS Genetics, Suen et al. reveal that leaf-cutter ant fungus gardens also contain a diverse community of bacteria with a high capacity for plant biomass degradation. The ability of leaf-cutter ants to maintain an external microbial digestive system capable of converting plant biomass into nutrients likely represents a key step in their establishment as one of the most widespread insect herbivores in the Neotropics.
Creative Commons licensed Image via: Jarrod J. Scott (University of Wisconsin-Madison)
Suen G, Scott JJ, Aylward FO, Adams SM, Tringe SG, et al. (2010) An Insect Herbivore Microbiome with High Plant Biomass-Degrading Capacity. PLoS Genet 6(9): e1001129. dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pgen.1001129