Metagenomics Reveals Diet-Specific Specialization of Bacterial Communities in Fungus Gardens of Grass- and Dicot-Cutter Ants

Front Microbiol. 2020 Sep 24;11:570770. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2020.570770. eCollection 2020.


Leaf-cutter ants in the genus Atta are dominant herbivores in the Neotropics. While most species of Atta cut dicots to incorporate into their fungus gardens, some species specialize on grasses. Here we examine the bacterial community associated with the fungus gardens of grass- and dicot-cutter ants to examine how changes in substrate input affect the bacterial community. We sequenced the metagenomes of 12 Atta fungus gardens, across four species of ants, with a total of 5.316 Gbp of sequence data. We show significant differences in the fungus garden bacterial community composition between dicot- and grass-cutter ants, with grass-cutter ants having lower diversity. Reflecting this difference in community composition, the bacterial functional profiles between the fungus gardens are significantly different. Specifically, grass-cutter ant fungus garden metagenomes are particularly enriched for genes responsible for amino acid, siderophore, and terpenoid biosynthesis while dicot-cutter ant fungus gardens metagenomes are enriched in genes involved in membrane transport. Differences between community composition and functional capacity of the bacteria in the two types of fungus gardens reflect differences in the substrates that the ants incorporated. These results show that different substrate inputs matter for fungus garden bacteria and shed light on the potential role of bacteria in mediating the ants' transition to the use of a novel substrate.

Keywords: Atta; KEGG; attine ant; herbivory; microbiome; substrate specialization.