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Symbiosis: Bacterial Gut Symbionts Are Tightly Linked With the Evolution of Herbivory in Ants

Multiple independent associations between rhizobiales and herbivorous ants provides strong evidence that symbiotic bacteria have facilitated the evolution of nectar and exudate-feeding life histories in ants and their radiation into otherwise inhospitable rainforest canopy habitats, providing a novel instance of innovation through symbiosis.

Broadly speaking, ants have two different feeding strategies. A large proportion of all species are "carnivorous," meaning that they are generalist predators feeding on other small animals or scavenging on their remains. Some, however, are "herbivorous." This is not to say that they only eat plants; rather, the bulk of their diets consist of plant-derived matter. For example, some forage on sticky fluids produced by plants to attract ants, called extra-floral nectar; others feed on the processed plant sap excreted by plant-sucking insects such as scale insects and aphids. Herbivorous ants are likely to be a highly under-estimated component of the global fauna as there are many tropical forest canopy specialists among them, and the forest canopy remains to this day surprisingly unexplored.
 
 

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