Data from: Putting the waste out: a proposed mechanism for transmission of the mycoparasite Escovopsis between leafcutter ant colonies
Augustin, Juliana O. et al. (2017), Data from: Putting the waste out: a proposed mechanism for transmission of the mycoparasite Escovopsis between leafcutter ant colonies, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.896r3
The attine ant system is a remarkable example of symbiosis. An antagonistic partner within this system is the fungal parasite Escovopsis, a genus specific to the fungal gardens of the Attini. Escovopsis parasitizes the Leucoagaricus symbiont that leaf-cutting ants (Acromyrmex, Atta) have been farming over the past 8-12 million years. However, it has been a puzzle how Escovopsis reaches its host. During a seasonal survey of nests of Acromyrmex subterraneus subterraneus in Atlantic rainforest in Brazil, Escovopsis was detected in all the sampled fungal garden waste tips or middens (n = 111). Middens were built strategically; always below the nest entrances. Here, we report the first evidence of a putative mechanism for horizontal transmission of Escovopsis between attine colonies. It is posited that leaf-cutting ants pick up the spores from soil and litter during foraging and vector the mycoparasite between attine colonies. Field and laboratory experiments, using Atta laevigata and Acromyrmex subterraneus subterraneus, confirm that Escovopsis spores are phoretic, and have an in-built dormancy, broken by the presence of their Leucoagaricus host. However, in the coevolutionary arms race, Atta ants may lose out – despite most species in the genus investing in a more advanced waste disposal system – due to the insanitary habits of their Acromyrmex neighbours.