The multidimensional nutritional niche of fungus-cultivar provisioning in free-ranging colonies of a neotropical leafcutter ant
Crumière, Antonin et al. (2021), The multidimensional nutritional niche of fungus-cultivar provisioning in free-ranging colonies of a neotropical leafcutter ant, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.6t1g1jx01
Foraging trails of leafcutter colonies are iconic scenes in the Neotropics, with ants collecting freshly-cut plant fragments to provision a fungal food crop. We hypothesized that the fungus-cultivar’s requirements for macronutrients and minerals govern the foraging niche breadth of Atta colombica leafcutter ants. Analyses of plant fragments carried by foragers showed how nutrients from fruits, flowers, and leaves combine to maximize cultivar performance. While the most commonly foraged leaves delivered excess protein relative to the cultivar’s needs, in vitro experiments showed that the minerals P, Al, and Fe may expand the leafcutter foraging niche by enhancing the cultivar’s tolerance to protein-biased substrates. A suite of other minerals reduces cultivar performance in ways that may render plant fragments with optimal macronutrient blends unsuitable for provisioning. Our approach highlights how the nutritional challenges of provisioning a mutualist can govern the multidimensional realized niche available to a generalist insect herbivore.
European Research Council, Award: ERC-2017-STG-757810