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Odors produced by soil microbes attract red fire ants to safer nest sites

phys.org
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fairly difficult
Newly mated queens of the red fire ant select nest sites with a relatively low pathogen risk by detecting odors produced by soil bacteria that inhibit the growth of ant-infecting fungi, according to a study published September 10 in the open-access journal PLOS Pathogens by Daifeng Cheng and Yongyue Lu of South China Agricultural University, and colleagues. As noted by the authors, this is the first time that the chemical signals of soil microorganisms have been reported to affect the nesting choice of newly mated queens.
Solenopsis invicta - fire ant worker. Credit: Insects Unlocked



Soil-dwelling insects are at risk of pathogen infection. When choosing nesting sites, insects could reduce this risk by avoiding contact with pathogens. Yet it has not been clear whether social insects can reliably detect and avoid pathogens at potential nesting sites. In the new study, the researchers show that newly mated queens of a soil-dwelling ant—the red fire ant Solenopsis invicta—nest preferentially in soil containing more actinobacteria, which produce compounds that inhibit the growth of pathogenic fungi.

The ants are attracted to two volatile compounds…
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