Thalles C. Mattoso, Denise D. O. Moreira and Richard I. Samuels
Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology, State University of North Fluminense, Campos dos Goytacazes, Rio de Janeiro 28013-602, Brazil.
Although only discovered in 1999, the symbiotic filamentous actinobacteria present on the integument of certain species of leaf-cutting ants have been the subject of intense research. These bacteria have been shown to specifically suppress fungal garden parasites by secretion of antibiotics. However, more recently, a wider role for these bacteria has been suggested from research revealing their generalist anti-fungal activity. Here we show, for the first time, evidence for a role of these bacteria in the defence of young worker ants against a fungal entomopathogen. Experimental removal of the bacterial bio-film using an antibiotic resulted in a significant increase in susceptibility of worker ants to infection by the entomopathogenic fungus Metarhizium anisopliae. This is the first direct evidence for the advantage of maintaining a bacterial bio-film on the cuticle as a defensive strategy of the ants themselves and not exclusively for protection of the fungus garden.