Research objectives and content
Leafcutter ants are major agricultural pests in (sub)tropical America. During millions of years of evolution these ants have become dependent on the cultivation of a clonally propagated fungus, which they farm in underground nest-chambers. Several natural adaptations may explain the evolutionary success of leafcutter ants, i.e. the way in which their colonies and crops are able to resist pathogens and other stress factors: 1. Production of antibiotic glandular secretions in variable qualities and quantities. 2. Active manipulation of genetic diversity of workers and fungus gardens within nests by multiple mating and/or joint nest-founding of queens. 3. Local co-adaptation between lineages of ants and symbiotic fungus, ensuring maximal productivity and resistance to parasites.
An explicit study of these factors and their interactions is the objective of this proposal.
Training content (objective, benefit and expected impact)
1. Specialise in evolutionary ecology and population genetics; 2. Become a qualified entomologist specialized in pest-ants; 3. Learn specific DNA and histology techniques
1. Stimulating and international academic atmosphere in the Aarhus Department 2. Exchanges and interactions through the EU-TMR network on Social Evolution.
1. Research of high standard, to be published in good international journals 2. Improved chances on the international job market. Links with industry / industrial relevance (22)
None at present