Leaf-cutting ants: an unexpected microenvironment holding human opportunistic black fungi
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Fungus-growing ants of the genus Atta are known for their leaf-cutting habit, a lifestyle they have maintained since their 50-million-year-old co-evolution with a mutualistic fungus, cultivated as food. Recent studies have highlighted that, in addition to the mutualistic fungus, nests of ants harbor a great diversity of microbial communities. Such microorganisms include the dematiaceous fungi, which are characterized by their melanized cell walls. In order to contribute to the knowledge of fungal ecology, as well as opportunistic strains that may be dispersed by these social insects, we isolated and identified fungi carried by gynes of Atta capiguara and Atta laevigata, collected from colonies located in Fazenda Santana, Botucatu (So Paulo, Brazil). The isolation was carried out using the oil flotation technique, which is suitable for the growth of black fungi. Inoculated plates were incubated at 25 and 35 A degrees C until black cultures were visible (20-45 days). Isolates were identified based on microscopic and molecular characteristics. Some isolated genera were: Cladophialophora, Cladosporium, Exophiala, Ochroconis, Phaeococcomyces, Phialophora and Penidiella. Hyaline species were also found. The results obtained from this work showed that leaf-cutting gynes may contribute to the dispersal of opportunistic dematiaceous fungi. It is suggested that more attention should be paid to this still unexplored subject.