Gut microbial compositions mirror caste-specific diets in a major lineage of social insects

Saria Otani, Mariya Zhukova, N'golo Abdoulaye Koné, Rafael Rodrigues da Costa, Aram Mikaelyan, Panagiotis Sapountzis, Michael Poulsen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

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Social insects owe their ecological success to the division of labour between castes, but associations between microbial community compositions and castes with different tasks and diets have not been extensively explored. Fungus-growing termites associate with fungi to degrade plant material, complemented by diverse gut microbial communities. Here, we explore whether division of labour and accompanying dietary differences between fungus-growing termite castes are linked to gut bacterial community structure. Using amplicon sequencing, we characterize community compositions in sterile (worker and soldier) and reproductive (queen and king) termites and combine this with gut enzyme activities and microscopy to hypothesise sterile caste-specific microbiota roles. Gut bacterial communities are structured primarily according to termite caste and genus and, in contrast to the observed rich and diverse sterile caste microbiotas, royal pair guts are dominated by few bacterial taxa, potentially reflecting their specialized uniform diet and unique lifestyle.

Original languageEnglish
JournalEnvironmental Microbiology Reports
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)196-205
Publication statusPublished - 2019


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