Different species of Leafcutter ants use different species of fungus, but all of the This symbiotic relationship is further augmented by another symbiotic partner. Leafcutter ant, (tribe Attini), any of 39 ant species abundant in the American relationship of leafcutter ants (sometimes called parasol ants) with fungi in the. (). 9) The three trees depict the relationships between leaf cutter ants (left), fungi cultivated by those ants (middle) and fungi parasitizing ant gardens (right).
The cultivated fungi are found only in leafcutter nests, where they provide food for the ants in the form of the fungal strands themselves and as protein-containing bodies called gondylidia.
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While larvae depend on the fungus, workers also feed on plant sap. Among the Atta, new colonies are established at the beginning of the rainy season when queens carrying fungal fragments disperse in spectacular mating swarms. In other genera, the pattern of fungus transmission is not clear. Leafcutters are the dominant herbivores of the New World tropics.
The amount of vegetation cut from tropical forests by the Atta ants alone has been estimated at 12—17 percent of all leaf production.
Grass-cutting species accomplish similar feats: Linder Leafcutter ants profoundly affect their surroundings. By pruning vegetation, they stimulate new plant growth, and, by gardening their fungal food, they enrich the soil.
Majors are the largest worker ants and act as soldiers, defending the nest from intruders, although there is recent evidence that majors participate in other activities, such as clearing the main foraging trails of large debris and carrying bulky items back to the nest. The largest soldiers Atta laevigata may have total body lengths up to 16 mm and head widths of 7 mm. When the ants are out collecting leaves, they are at risk of being attacked by the phorid fly, a parasitic pest which lay eggs into the crevices of the worker ants head.
Often a minim will sit ont the worker ant and ward off any attack. The nests of mature Atta colonies are well engineered, with thousands of underground chambers extending downwards more than 6 meters in depth. The central nest mound itself may be 30 meters in diameter, and have numerous 0.
In order to prevent the spread of diseases and the rise of pathogenic pests in their gardens, Leafcutter ants have developed one of the most advanced waste management systems in nature.
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Waste products from the gardens and dead members of the colony are segregated away from the main nest by specialized "waste workers". Transporters carry the waste to garbage heaps, where other workers who live exclusively in the heap turn over the growing pile in order to accelerate decomposition. Leafcutter ants comprise two genera — Atta and Acromyrmex — with a total of 39 species, some of which are major agricultural pests.
They may have been eating fungi for up to 50 million years, and during that time they have co-evolved with their fungal partners. The photo below shows the nests of leafcutter ants: The ants and their fungi form a true symbiosis, with both partners benefiting from the relationship.
Leaf Cutter Ants
The ants benefit by exploiting leaves: The fungi break down the indigestible cellulose of plants, converting it into more edible proteins and sugars which the ants can harvest. The ants, in turn, provide all the food the fungus needs, carefully selecting the leaves that the fungus prefers, and even secreting antibiotics to prevent bacteria from growing on the rotting leaves in competition with the fungus. The ants also carry the fungus around when they move to a new location.