Azteca ants maintain unique microbiomes across functionally distinct nest chambers

Jane M. Lucas, Anne A. Madden, Clint A. Penick, Mary Jane Epps, Peter R. Marting, Julia L. Stevens, Daniel J. Fergus, Robert R. Dunn, Emily K. Meineke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


The microbiome of built structures has considerable influence over an inhabitant's well-being, yet the vast majority of research has focused on human-built structures. Ants are well-known architects, capable of constructing elaborate dwellings, the microbiome of which is underexplored. Here, we explore the bacterial and fungal microbiomes in functionally distinct chambers within and outside the nests of Azteca alfari ants in Cecropia peltata trees. We predicted that A. alfari colonies (1) maintain distinct microbiomes within their nests compared to the surrounding environment, (2) maintain distinct microbiomes among nest chambers used for different functions, and (3) limit both ant and plant pathogens inside their nests. In support of these predictions, we found that internal and external nest sampling locations had distinct microbial communities, and A. alfari maintained lower bacterial richness in their 'nurseries'. While putative animal pathogens were suppressed in chambers that ants actively inhabited, putative plant pathogens were not, which does not support our hypothesis that A. alfari defends its host trees against microbial antagonists. Our results show that ants influence microbial communities inside their nests similar to studies of human homes. Unlike humans, ants limit the bacteria in their nurseries and potentially prevent the build-up of insect-infecting pathogens. These results highlight the importance of documenting how indoor microbiomes differ among species, which might improve our understanding of how to promote indoor health in human dwellings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20191026
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1908
StatePublished - Aug 14 2019


  • Azteca
  • Cecropia
  • Microbe
  • Microbiome
  • Myrmecophyte

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Environmental Science
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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