Nitrogen fixation by diverse diazotrophic communities can support population growth of arboreal ants

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2022
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Nepel, Maximilian
Pfeifer, Josephine
Richter, Andreas
Woebken, Dagmar
Mayer, Veronika E.
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BMC Biology. BioMed Central. 2022, 20, 135. eISSN 1741-7007. Available under: doi: 10.1186/s12915-022-01289-0
Zusammenfassung

Background
Symbiotic ant-plant associations, in which ants live on plants, feed on plant-provided food, and protect host trees against threats, are ubiquitous across the tropics, with the Azteca-Cecropia associations being amongst the most widespread interactions in the Neotropics. Upon colonization of Cecropia’s hollow internodes, Azteca queens form small patches with plant parenchyma, which are then used as waste piles when the colony grows. Patches—found in many ant-plant mutualisms—are present throughout the colony life cycle and may supplement larval food. Despite their initial nitrogen (N)-poor substrate, patches in Cecropia accommodate fungi, nematodes, and bacteria. In this study, we investigated the atmospheric N2 fixation as an N source in patches of early and established ant colonies.

Results
Via 15N2 tracer assays, N2 fixation was frequently detected in all investigated patch types formed by three Azteca ant species. Quantified fixation rates were similar in early and established ant colonies and higher than in various tropical habitats. Based on amplicon sequencing, the identified microbial functional guild—the diazotrophs—harboring and transcribing the dinitrogenase reductase (nifH) gene was highly diverse and heterogeneous across Azteca colonies. The community composition differed between early and established ant colonies and partly between the ant species.

Conclusions
Our data show that N2 fixation can result in reasonable amounts of N in ant colonies, which might not only enable bacterial, fungal, and nematode growth in the patch ecosystems but according to our calculations can even support the growth of ant populations. The diverse and heterogeneous diazotrophic community implies a functional redundancy, which could provide the ant-plant-patch system with a higher resilience towards changing environmental conditions. Hence, we propose that N2 fixation represents a previously unknown potential to overcome N limitations in arboreal ant colonies.

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ISO 690NEPEL, Maximilian, Josephine PFEIFER, Felix B. OBERHAUSER, Andreas RICHTER, Dagmar WOEBKEN, Veronika E. MAYER, 2022. Nitrogen fixation by diverse diazotrophic communities can support population growth of arboreal ants. In: BMC Biology. BioMed Central. 2022, 20, 135. eISSN 1741-7007. Available under: doi: 10.1186/s12915-022-01289-0
BibTex
@article{Nepel2022-06-09Nitro-57901,
  year={2022},
  doi={10.1186/s12915-022-01289-0},
  title={Nitrogen fixation by diverse diazotrophic communities can support population growth of arboreal ants},
  volume={20},
  journal={BMC Biology},
  author={Nepel, Maximilian and Pfeifer, Josephine and Oberhauser, Felix B. and Richter, Andreas and Woebken, Dagmar and Mayer, Veronika E.},
  note={Article Number: 135}
}
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