Limited persistence of endophytic fungi in leaf-cutting ant gardens

Jill Urriola, Ariadna Bethancourt, Sunshine A. Van Bael

Abstract


Fungi that are known foliar endophytes have often been isolated from leaf-cutting ant fungal gardens. Recent in vitro growth trials showed that endophytic fungal growth was suppressed by the Lepiotaceous fungi cultivated by leaf-cutting ants. Here we conducted experiments with laboratory ant colonies to assess how long one strain of a common endophytic fungus persisted in the ants’ fungal garden after incorporation by worker ants. We observed that after 72 hours our focal strain could no longer be cultured from the incorporated leaf material or surrounding garden tissues. Moreover, we were unable to culture our focal strain from the ants’ garbage dumps. The limited persistence of an endophyte in ant fungal gardens may be due to ant hygiene behaviors and/or antagonism from the ants’ fungal cultivar.

Key words: Atta colombica, Colletotrichum tropicale, endophyte, Leucocoprinus gongylophorus, mutualism.


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