Leafcutter ants likely obtain a large part of their nitrogen from symbiotic bacteria living in their cultivated fungal gardens.

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"Bacteria-mediated acquisition of atmospheric N2 serves as a critical source of nitrogen in terrestrial ecosystems. Here we reveal that symbiotic nitrogen fixation facilitates the cultivation of specialized fungal crops by leaf-cutter ants. By using acetylene reduction and stable isotope experiments, we demonstrated that N2 fixation occurred in the fungus gardens of eight leaf-cutter ant species and, further, that this fixed nitrogen was incorporated into ant biomass. Symbiotic N2-fixing bacteria were consistently isolated from the fungus gardens of 80 leaf-cutter ant colonies collected in Argentina, Costa Rica, and Panama. The discovery of N2 fixation within the leaf-cutter ant–microbe symbiosis reveals a previously unrecognized nitrogen source in neotropical ecosystems." (Pinto-Tomás et al. 2009:1120)

Journal article
Symbiotic nitrogen fixation in the fungus gardens of leaf-cutter ants

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Leaf-cutters get their fix (nitrogen fix, that is)


Ants eat well, thanks to bacteria

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