Fungus-growing insects host a distinctive microbiota apparently adapted to the fungiculture environment
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Some lineages of ants, termites, and beetles independently evolved a symbiotic association with lignocellulolytic fungi cultivated for food, in a lifestyle known as fungiculture. Fungus-growing insects’ symbiosis also hosts a bacterial community thought to integrate their physiology. Similarities in taxonomic composition support the microbiota of fungus-growing insects as convergent, despite differences in fungus-rearing by these insects. Here, by comparing fungus-growing insects to several hosts ranging diverse dietary patterns, we investigate whether the microbiota taxonomic and functional profiles are characteristic of the fungiculture environment. Compared to other hosts, the microbiota associated with fungus-growing insects presents a distinctive taxonomic profile, dominated by Gammaproteobacteria at class level and by Pseudomonas at genera level. Even with a functional profile presenting similarities with the gut microbiota of herbivorous and omnivorous hosts, some differentially abundant features codified by the microbiota of fungus-growing insects suggest these communities occupying microhabitats that are characteristic of fungiculture. These features include metabolic pathways involved in lignocellulose breakdown, detoxification of plant secondary metabolites, metabolism of simple sugars, fungal cell wall deconstruction, biofilm formation, antimicrobials biosynthesis, and metabolism of diverse nutrients. Our results suggest that the microbiota could be functionally adapted to the fungiculture environment, codifying metabolic pathways potentially relevant to the fungus-growing insects’ ecosystems functioning.
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