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Journal Article

Abdominal microbial communities in ants depend on colony membership rather than caste and are linked to colony productivity

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Segers, F. H. I. D., Kaltenpoth, M., & Foitzik, S. (2019). Abdominal microbial communities in ants depend on colony membership rather than caste and are linked to colony productivity. Ecology and Evolution, 9(23), 13450-13467. doi:10.1002/ece3.5801.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0007-E2F9-1
Gut bacteria aid their host in digestion and pathogen defense, and bacterial communities that differ in diversity or composition may vary in their ability to do so. Typically, the gut microbiomes of animals living in social groups converge as members share a nest environment and frequently interact. Social insect colonies, however, consist of individuals that differ in age, physiology, and behavior, traits that could affect gut communities or that expose the host to different bacteria, potentially leading to variation in the gut microbiome within colonies. Here we asked whether bacterial communities in the abdomen of Temnothorax nylanderi ants, composed largely of the gut microbiome, differ between different reproductive and behavioral castes. We compared microbiomes of queens, newly eclosed workers, brood carers, and foragers by high-throughput 16S rRNA sequencing. Additionally, we sampled individuals from the same colonies twice, in the field and after 2 months of laboratory housing. To disentangle the effects of laboratory environment and season on microbial communities, additional colonies were collected at the same location after 2 months. There were no large differences between ant castes, although queens harbored more diverse microbial communities than workers. Instead, we found effects of colony, environment, and season on the abdominal microbiome. Interestingly, colonies with more diverse communities had produced more brood. Moreover, the queens' microbiome composition was linked to egg production. Although long-term coevolution between social insects and gut bacteria has been repeatedly evidenced, our study is the first to find associations between abdominal microbiome characteristics and colony productivity in social insects.