Springer Online Journal Archives 1860-2000
Abstract There is an obligatory relationship between leaf-cutting ants of the generaAtta andAcromyrmex (Hymenoptera; Attini) and the fungus,Attamyces bromatificus Kreisel, for which they provide a substrate of cut plant material. We show that the ants learn to reject plant material that contains chemicals injurious to the fungus. After an initial period of acceptance, ants from laboratory nests stopped harvesting granular bait containing a fungicidal agent (cycloheximide) and orange peel. This rejection was maintained for many weeks. These colonies also rejected control bait containing no cycloheximide. Some generalisation of the response was observed; colonies rejecting orange granules also rejected grapefruit granules, although they still accepted blackcurrant granules. Rejection of fungicidal bait by colonies in the field was restricted to ants on foraging trails exposed to experimental bait. We conclude that a semiochemical from the fungus, circulated by trophallaxis and grooming, regulates the selection of plant material by foragers. The fungus gains more advantages from the symbiotic relationship than is often realised. The ants provide the fungus with housing, sanitation, defence against disease and predators, pre-selected food, and a means of dissemination, at the cost to itself of providing food for the ant brood.
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