Over the past few decades, large-scale phylogenetic analyses of fungus-gardening ants and their symbiotic fungi have depicted strong concordance among major clades of ants and their symbiotic fungi, yet within clades, fungus sharing is somewhat widespread among unrelated ant lineages. These symbioses are thought to be explained by a diffuse coevolution model within major clades. Understanding horizontal exchange within clades has been limited by conventional genetic markers that lack both interspecific and geographic variation. To examine whether reports of horizontal exchange was indeed symbiont sharing or an issue of employing relatively uninformative molecular markers, samples of Trachymyrmex arizonensis and Trachymyrmex pomonae and their fungi were collected from native populations in Arizona and genotyped using conventional marker genes and genome-wide single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). Conventional markers of the fungal symbionts generally exhibited cophylogenetic patterns that were consistent with some symbiont sharing, but most fungal clades had low support. SNP analysis, in contrast, indicated that each ant species exhibited fidelity to its own fungal subclade with only one instance of a colony growing a fungus that was otherwise associated with a different ant species. This evidence supports a pattern of codivergence between Trachymyrmex species and their fungi, and thus a diffuse coevolutionary model may not accurately predict symbiont exchange. These results suggest that fungal sharing across host species in these symbioses may be less extensive than previously thought.
For nearly all organisms, dispersal is a fundamental life history trait that can shape their ecology and evolution. Variation in dispersal capabilities within a species exists and can influence population genetic structure and ecological interactions. In fungus-gardening (attine) ants, co-dispersal of ants and mutualistic fungi is crucial to the success of this obligate symbiosis. Female-biased dispersal (and gene flow) may be favored in attines because virgin queens carry the responsibility of dispersing the fungi, but a paucity of research has made this conclusion difficult. Here, we investigate dispersal of the fungus-gardening ant Trachymyrmex septentrionalis using a combination of maternally- (mitochondrial DNA) and biparentally-inherited (microsatellites) markers. We found three distinct, spatially isolated mitochondrial DNA haplotypes. Two were found in the Florida panhandle and the other was found in the Florida peninsula. In contrast, biparental markers illustrated significant gene flow across this region and minimal spatial structure. The differential patterns uncovered from mitochondrial DNA and microsatellite markers suggest that most long-distance ant dispersal is male-biased and that females (and concomitantly the fungus) have more limited dispersal capabilities. Consequently, the limited female dispersal is likely an important bottleneck for the fungal symbiont. This bottleneck could slow fungal genetic diversification, which has significant implications for both ant hosts and fungal symbionts regarding population genetics, species distributions, adaptive responses to environmental change, and coevolutionary patterns.