The attini tribe comprises fungusgrowing ants, such as the basal Apterostigma and other more specialized genera, including the higher attine and the ones that cut the fresh plant tissue (Atta and Acromyrmex), maintaining an obligatory mutualistic relation with the fungus Leucoagaricus gongylophorus, which serves as a food source for the ants. Leaf-cutter ants are considered agriculture pests and populate the soil, a rich environment, especially due to the presence of several microorganisms. Some of these microorganisms are natural enemies that may cause epizootics (quickly spreading opportunistic diseases). Such defence strategies include polyethism, that is, division of labor among the individuals. The older ants take on the responsibility of foraging, as their integument is harder and heavily sclerotized, serving as a protective barrier against pathogens (including bacteria and antagonistic fungi). The younger ants, whose metapleural glands synthetize important secretions to eliminate and control microorganisms that could attack the colony fungus garden and the immature (larvae and pupae), remain inside the colony cultivating symbiont fungi. The sum of the survival strategies of ants in general, including social immunity and nest-cleaning behavior, represents a barrier for the application of biological control programs, mainly microbial ones.
Part of the book: The Complex World of Ants