Characterization of actinobacteria associated with three ant-plant mutualisms

Microb Ecol. 2015 Jan;69(1):192-203. doi: 10.1007/s00248-014-0469-3. Epub 2014 Aug 6.


Ant-plant mutualisms are conspicuous and ecologically important components of tropical ecosystems that remain largely unexplored in terms of insect-associated microbial communities. Recent work has revealed that ants in some ant-plant systems cultivate fungi (Chaetothyriales) within their domatia, which are fed to larvae. Using Pseudomyrmex penetrator/Tachigali sp. from French Guiana and Petalomyrmex phylax/Leonardoxa africana and Crematogaster margaritae/Keetia hispida, both from Cameroon, as models, we tested the hypothesis that ant-plant-fungus mutualisms co-occur with culturable Actinobacteria. Using selective media, we isolated 861 putative Actinobacteria from the three systems. All C. margaritae/K. hispida samples had culturable Actinobacteria with a mean of 10.0 colony forming units (CFUs) per sample, while 26 % of P. penetrator/Tachigali samples (mean CFUs 1.3) and 67 % of P. phylax/L. africana samples (mean CFUs 3.6) yielded Actinobacteria. The largest number of CFUs was obtained from P. penetrator workers, P. phylax alates, and C. margaritae pupae. 16S rRNA gene sequencing and phylogenetic analysis revealed the presence of four main clades of Streptomyces and one clade of Nocardioides within these three ant-plant mutualisms. Streptomyces with antifungal properties were isolated from all three systems, suggesting that they could serve as protective symbionts, as found in other insects. In addition, a number of isolates from a clade of Streptomyces associated with P. phylax/L. africana and C. margaritae/K. hispida were capable of degrading cellulose, suggesting that Streptomyces in these systems may serve a nutritional role. Repeated isolation of particular clades of Actinobacteria from two geographically distant locations supports these isolates as residents in ant-plant-fungi niches.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Actinobacteria / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Ants / physiology*
  • Ascomycota / physiology*
  • Cameroon
  • Ecosystem
  • Fabaceae / microbiology
  • Fabaceae / physiology
  • French Guiana