The colony of attine ants is a system whose evolutionary success depends on symbiotic interactions with fungi. Fungi in the Hypocreaceae family (Ascomycota) are common inhabitants of attine colonies which, in some cases, have evolved with these insects over millions of years. Our research group discovered that attine ant colonies harbour new clades of hypocrealean fungi (namely clades C and D), yet not formally described and whose ecological role is unknown. This project aims to unravel the ecology and systematics of these fungi. We will infer the phylogenetic tree of life of these microorganisms, as well as evaluate the taxonomic diversity, geographic distribution and their ecological role in the attine system. So far, fungi of clades C and D have been isolated only from Apterostigma colonies. Our hypothesis is that they are also associated with other attine genera and that they have ecological roles similar to those of their sister clades (Escovopsis and Sympodiorosea). To test this, collections of fungus gardens of different attine genera will be performed in different areas of Brazil and in Central America. In addition, we will build the systematics of these fungi using taxonomic and multilocus phylogenetic approaches. The ecological role of these fungi against the attine fungal cultivars, as well as other fungi that inhabit the same system, will be evaluated through in vivo and in vitro assays. Furthermore, we will look for possible secondary metabolites produced by the fungi in such interactions. This project will increase our knowledge on the diversity and ecology of hypocrealean fungi that inhabit the attine colonies, as well as will unravel the evolution of these fungi in attine ant colonies.
News published in Agência FAPESP Newsletter about the scholarship: