Bacteria help fungi and ants digest leaves

Leafcutter ants are known for cultivating complex gardens of fungi and bacteria. While scientists have known for over a century that the ants eat the fungi from their gardens, a team of researchers from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and elsewhere has shed light for the first time on the bacteria’s role in the process. The new research found the ants cultivate the bacteria to help decompose the plant material which they feed to the fungi.

The ants cultivate their gardens by retrieving forest leaves and feeding them to fungi cultures. By undertaking a comprehensive survey of the bacteria from the gardens and studying the proteins they produced, researchers confirmed that the bacteria help to break down the complex sugars in the plant material, promoting the fungi’s growth and perhaps even nourishing the ants themselves.

Read more at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory