Current projects

Many ants live in symbiotic relationships with plants (myrmecophytes) that provide nesting space (domatia) and plant-derived food sources in the form of extrafloral nectar and/or specialised food bodies. Importantly, recent studies have shown that also other groups of organisms are involved in many of these ant-plant systems, i.e. fungi, which are often cultivated by ants in so-called “fungal patches”. However, fungi are not the only inhabitants of ant-made patches. In addition, we have found nematodes along with bacteria and archaea. As such, the fungal patches constitute diverse communities comprising various organisms that interact with each other. To date, the functional role of these patches is largely unknown. One of the possible functions of these patches seems to be the recycling and storage of nutrients.

Aims: (1) to characterize the species diversity in fungal patches with special focus on the fungi and nematode community; (2) to obtain sequence information of genes expressed by bacteria/archaea, fungi, and nematodes to get further insights into the functional role of fungal patches.

Approach: The patch-specific communities will be investigated via culture-independent approaches and compared with the community on the host plant and in the soil. Fungi will be identified with sequencing of ITS region and nematodes with sequencing of the 18S rRNA genes. Untargeted metatranscriptome (including metagenome) sequencing will be performed to retrieve genomic information of microbial patch community members.

Relevance: There is growing awareness that multicellular organisms are influenced by symbioses with smaller, often microbial partners that contribute to their nutrition, protection and development. We are beginning to explore the diversity and function of the microbial community and nematodes in associations between plants and inhabiting ants with respect to the stability of ant-plant symbioses.

Student: Verónica Barrajón-Santos

Faculty:  Dr. Veronika Mayer, Dr. Dagmar Woebken, Prof. Dr. Andreas Richter

Funding: FWF project P31990-B

Selected publications:

Moreno, L. F., Mayer, V., Voglmayr, H., Blatrix, R., Stielow, J. B., Teixeira, M. M.,  de Hoog, S. (2019). Genomic analysis of ant domatia-associated melanized fungi (Chaetothyriales, Ascomycota). Mycological Progress, 18(4), 541-552.

Mayer, V., Nepel, M., Richter, A., Kaiser, C., & Voglmayr, H. (2018). Fungal patches in ant-plant associations: initiation and metabolic activity. In Workshop Black Fungi post-ISHAM: Abstract Book (pp. 24)

Nepel, M., Voglmayr, H., Blatrix, R., Longino, J. T., Fiedler, K., Schönenberger, J., & Mayer, V. (2016). Ant-cultivated Chaetothyriales in hollow stems of myrmecophytic Cecropia sp. trees – diversity and patterns. Fungal Ecology, 23, 131-140.