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Interaction, Ecology and Society Department


Researcher at CNRS

Campus du CNRS
1919, route de Mende
34293 Montpellier cedex 5, France

Tél. : +33/0 4 67 61 32 32
Fax : +33/0 4 67 41 21 38

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Keywords : Biological organism:  Ants, ant-plants, fungi. Habitat: Tropical. Field of research: Evolutionary ecology. Technique:  Observation and behavioural tests, molecular biology, chromatography, spectroscopy, microscopy, electrophysiology. Topic: coevolution. Other keywords: Symbiosis, mutualism, parasitism, biodiversity.

Research activities

Interactions between organisms are fundamental elements in ecosystem functioning. Thus, understanding interactions between species is as important as the knowledge on biodiversity. My research activities are focussed on obligatory and durable interactions. My goal is to elucidate how these interactions work in order to evaluate their ecological importance and to understand their evolutionary history.

I am using, as a study model, the symbiotic interactions between ants, plants and fungi, in the tropics. Most of the biodiversity is concentrated in the tropics, and then, the interactions are more complex there. In the rain forests, many plant species have particular relationships with ants. The nature of these relationships is very diverse. The most common relationships are loose, opportunistic and non specific, in which plants produce extra-floral nectaries and food bodies that benefit ants. As a feed-back the plant benefits from the occasional protection of foraging ants against herbivores and pathogens. In contrast, ant-plant symbioses in most cases imply specific and obligatory relationships, from mutualism to parasitism. The plant provides ants with nest sites, called domatia (hollow stems, leaves …), and all or part of the food needed for colony growth. In mutualistic interactions, the ant contributes to protecting the plant from herbivores, fungal pathogens and competing plants. The plant also benefits from nutrients transferred from the ants. Very little is known about the mechanisms underlying these transfers. Some ant species are considered as parasites because they take advantage of the food and nest sites produced by the plant without protecting it. I am working mainly on three research projects, using the ant-plant symbiosis as a model.



Communication between plants and insects
In ant-plant symbioses, ants protect their host plant against herbivores. In most cases, ants patrol young leaves permanently. In contrast, they patrol mature leaves only when those leaves are damaged (by herbivores for instance). It means that the plant produces signals attracting ants to the places that need protection. Those signals are probably mostly chemical compounds. The goal of this research project is to identify those signals in order to understand how communication has evolved between ants and plants.

Genetic structuring of the symbiotic partners, and consequences on mutualism stability

Climate oscillations produce dramatic changes in species distribution, even in the tropics. The survivorship of a species depends directly on the survivorship of its symbiotic partners. The stability of mutualistic symbiotic interactions depends on a good match between the interests of the partners. Symbioses often involve organisms with very different life histories, in particular, with different lifespan and generation times that differ by orders of magnitude. It is the case for ants and plants. Changes in species distribution generate conflicts between mutualists, owing to shifts in the costs and benefits for each partner. Thus, the stability of the mutualism can potentially be affected by distribution shifts. Ant-plant symbioses are horizontally transmitted: plant seeds and ant foundresses disperse independently. Moreover, the partner with the shorter lifespan can become extinct locally and temporarily. In addition, it was shown that shorter lifespan in one of the symbionts, or phenotypes with higher dispersal capacities selected at colonization fronts, can lead to strategies that are less mutualistic, favouring exploitation of the other partner. The goal of this research project is to determine whether the partners in ant-plant symbioses are genetically co-structured. Information on population dynamics of symbiotic partners allows a better understanding of mutualism stability in a context of climate change.

Agriculture evolution and ecology of symbiotic communities

Ant-plant symbioses have long been considered as bipartite interactions. However, it appears that many other organisms are associated with these interactions. The occurrence of fungi (Chaetothyriales), bacteria and nematodes living along with ants in plant cavities suggests that these symbioses should be considered as symbiotic communities. The role of these organisms in ant-plant symbioses, and the nature - mutualistic or parasitic - of the associations, are not yet clear. Several clues suggest that the Chaetothyrialean fungi associated with ant-plant symbioses are cultivated by ants for food. The main goal of this research project is to determine whether it is a new case of agriculture by insects. Comparative analysis of various ant-plant-fungi symbioses provides a better understanding of the evolution of these tripartite interactions. I am thus tackling both the functional and the evolutionary aspects of these interactions by studying trophic fluxes between partners and the evolutionary history of the species involved.



Mayer V., Frederickson M., McKey D., Blatrix R. (2014). Current issues in the evolutionary ecology of ant-plant symbioses. New Phytologist. In press. - Research papers.

Blatrix R. (2013). Données supplémentaires sur les fourmis (Hymenoptera, Formicidae) des Alpes-Maritimes, avec une première mention de Temnothorax sordidulus (Mueller, 1923) en France. Bulletin de la Societe Linneenne de Provence, 64, 59-62 - Research papers.

Blatrix R., Debaud S., Salas-Lopez A., Born C., Benoit L., McKey D., Atteke C., Djiéto-Lordon C. (2013). Repeated evolution of fungal cultivar specificity in independently evolved ant-plant-fungus symbioses. Plos One, 8, e68101 - Research papers.

Blatrix R., Galkowski C., Lebas C., Wegnez P. (2013). Guide des fourmis de France. Delachaux et Niestlé, 287 pp. - Books.

Blatrix R., Lebas C., Wegnez P., Galkowski C., Buschinger A. (2013). New data on the distribution of Leptothorax pacis and L. kutteri, two very rare parasitic ants, and confirmation of the presence of L. gredleri in France. Revue de l'Association Roussillonnaise d'Entomologie, 22, 85-91 - Research papers.

Blatrix R., McKey D., Born C. (2013). Consequences of past climate change for species engaged in obligatory interactions. Comptes Rendus Geoscience, 345, 306-315 - Research papers.

Molecular Ecology Resources Primer Development Consortium (2013). Permanent genetic resources added to Molecular Ecology Resources database 1 February 2013-31 March 2013. Molecular Ecology Resources 13, 760-762. (Benoit L., Blatrix R., Djiéto-Lordon C., Atteke C., Mezui-M'Eko J., Dubois M.-P., McKey D., Born C. Characterization of microsatellite loci for a fungal symbiont (Ascomycota, Chaetothyriales) in an ant-plant-fungus symbiosis) - Research papers.

Peccoud J., Piatscheck F., Yockteng R., Garcia M., Sauve M., Djiéto-Lordon C., Harris D. J., Wieringa J. J., Breteler F. J., Born C., McKey D., Blatrix R. (2013). Multi-locus phylogenies of the genus Barteria (Passifloraceae) portray complex patterns in the evolution of myrmecophytism. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 66, 824-832 - Research papers.

Renard D., Birk J. J., Zangerlé A., Lavelle P., Glaser B., Blatrix R., McKey D. (2013). Ancient human agriculture practices can promote activities of contemporary non-human soil ecosystem engineers: a case study in coastal savannas of French Guiana. Soil Biology and Biochemistry, 62, 46-56 - Research papers.

Blatrix R., Djieto-Lordon C., Mondolot L., La Fisca P., Voglmayr H., McKey D. (2012). Plant-ants use symbiotic fungi as a food source: new insight into the nutritional ecology of ant-plant interactions. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 279, 3940-3947 - Research papers.

Blatrix R., McKey D. (2012). Des plantes et des fourmis. Pour la Science - Outreach publications.

Blatrix R., Renard D., Djieto-Lordon C., McKey D. (2012). The cost of myrmecophytism: insights from allometry of stem secondary growth. Annals of Botany, 110, 943-951 - Research papers.

Delattre O., Blatrix R., Châline N., Chameron S., Fédou A., Leroy C., Jaisson P. (2012). Do host species evolve a specific response to slave-making ants? Frontiers in Zoology, 9, 38 - Research papers.

Molecular Ecology Resources Primer Development Consortium (2012). Permanent genetic resources added to Molecular Ecology Resources database 1 August 2011-30 September 2011. Molecular Ecology Resources 12, 185-189. (Piatscheck F., Djieto-Lordon C., Garcia M., Sauve M., Peccoud J., Dubois M. P., McKey D., Blatrix R. Isolation and characterisation of 14 polymorphic microsatellite loci for the plant-associated ant Tetraponera aethiops (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) and cross-amplification in a closely related species) - Research papers.

Molecular Ecology Resources Primer Development Consortium (2012). Permanent genetic resources added to Molecular Ecology Resources database 1 December 2011-31 January 2012. Molecular Ecology Resources 12, 570-572. (Sauve M., Garcia M., Djieto-Lordon C., Peccoud J., Piatscheck F., Dubois M. P., McKey D., Harris D. J., Blatrix R. Isolation and characterisation of 17 microsatellite loci for the ant-plant Barteria fistulosa (Passifloraceae) and cross-amplification in the other species of the genus) - Research papers.

Vittecoq M., Djieto-Lordon C., McKey D., Blatrix R. (2012). Range expansion induces variation in a behavioural trait in an ant-plant mutualism. Acta Oecologica, 38, 84-88 - Research papers.

Defossez E., Djieto-Lordon C., McKey D., Selosse M.A., Blatrix R. (2011). Plant-ants feed their host plant, but above all a fungal symbiont to recycle nitrogen. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 278, 1419-1426 - Research papers.

Vittecoq M., Djieto-Lordon C., Buatois B., Dormont L., McKey D., Blatrix R. (2011). The evolution of communication in two ant-plant mutualisms. Evolutionary Biology, 38, 360-369 - Research papers.

Voglmayr H., Mayer V., Maschwitz U., Moog J., Djieto-Lordon C., Blatrix R. (2011). The diversity of ant-associated black yeasts: Insights into a newly discovered world of symbiotic interactions. Fungal Biology, 115, 1077-1091 - Research papers.

Blatrix R. (2010). La communication dans les symbioses entre plantes et fourmis. Le courrier de la nature, 260, pp.33-41 - Outreach publications.

Blatrix R., Mayer V. (2010). Communication in ant-plant symbioses. Pp. 127-158. In: Baluska F. and Ninkovic V. eds. Plant communication from an ecological perspective. Springer, Berlin - Chapters in books.

Blatrix R., Bouamer S., Morand S., Selosse M.A. (2009). Ant-plant mutualisms should be viewed as symbiotic communities. Plant Signaling and Behavior, 4, 554-556 - Research papers.

Defossez E., Selosse M.-A., Dubois M.-P., Mondolot L., Faccio A., Djieto-Lordon C., McKey D., Blatrix R. (2009). Ant-plants and fungi: a new threeway symbiosis. New Phytologist, 182, 942-949 - Research papers.

Hora R. R., Blatrix R., Fresneau D., Fénéron R. (2009). Social interactions between an inquiline ant, Ectatomma parasiticum, and its host Ectatomma tuberculatum (Formicidae, Ectatomminae). Journal of Ethology, 27, 285-288 - Research papers.

Schatz B., Djieto-Lordon C., Dormont L., Bessière J.M., McKey D., Blatrix R. (2009). A simple non-specific chemical signal mediates defence behaviour in a specialised ant-plant mutualism. Current Biology, 19, 361-362 - Research papers.

Leotard G., Defossez E., Debain C., McKey D., Kjellberg F., Blatrix R. (2008). Local genetic co-structuring of the ant Petalomyrmex phylax and its host plant Leonardoxa a. africana: no role for a sixty meter river width in separating social forms. Sociobiology, 51, 363-371 - Research papers.

Bono J. M., Blatrix R., Antolin M. F., Herbers J. M. (2007). Pirate ants (Polyergus breviceps) and sympatric hosts (Formica occulta and Formica sp. cf. argentea): host specificity and coevolutionary dynamics. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 91, 565-572 - Research papers.

Denis D., Blatrix R., Fresneau D. (2006). How an ant manages to display individual and colonial signals using the same channel. Journal of Chemical Ecology, 32, 1647-1661 - Research papers.

Blatrix R., Sermage C. (2005). Role of early experience in ant enslavement: a comparative analysis of a host and a non-host species. Frontiers in Zoology, 2:13 - Research papers.

Genton B. J., Jonot O., Thevenet D., Fournier E., Blatrix R., Vautrin D., Solignac M., Giraud T. (2005). Isolation of five polymorphic microsatellite loci in the invasive weed Ambrosia artemisiifolia (Asteraceae) using an enrichment protocol. Molecular Ecology Notes, 5, 381-383 - Research papers.

Blatrix R., Herbers J. M. (2004). Intracolonial conflict in the slave-making ant Protomognathus americanus: dominance hierarchies and individual reproductive success. Insectes Sociaux, 51, 131-138 - Research papers.

Blatrix R., Herbers J. M. (2003). Coevolution between slave-making ants and their hosts: host specificity and geographical variation. Molecular Ecology, 12, 2809-2816 - Research papers.

Blatrix R., Jaisson P. (2002). Absence of kin discrimination in a ponerine ant. Animal Behaviour, 64, 261-268 - Research papers.

Blatrix R., Schulz C. M., Jaisson P., Francke W., Hefetz A. (2002). Trail pheromone of ponerine ant Gnamptogenys striatula: 4-methylgeranyl esters from Dufour's gland. Journal of Chemical Ecology, 28, 2557-2567 - Research papers.

Schulz C. M., Lehmann L., Blatrix R., Jaisson P., Hefetz A., Francke W. (2002). Identification of new homoterpene esters from Dufour's gland of the ponerine ant Gnamptogenys striatula. Journal of Chemical Ecology, 28, 2541-2555 - Research papers.

Blatrix R., Jaisson P. (2001). Reproductive strategy of the ponerine ant Gnamptogenys striatula Mayr (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Sociobiology, 37, 147-161 - Research papers.

Giraud T., Blatrix R., Poteaux C., Solignac M., Jaisson P. (2001). High genetic relatedness among nestmate queens in the polygynous ponerine ant Gnamptogenys striatula in Brazil. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 49, 128-134 - Research papers.

Blatrix R. (2000). Aspects éthologiques et sociobiologiques de la polygynie chez une fourmi ponérine (Gnamptogenys striatula), Université Paris 13 - Theses.

Blatrix R., Durand J.-L., Jaisson P. (2000). Task allocation depends on matriline in the ponerine ant Gnamptogenys striatula Mayr. Journal of Insect Behavior, 13, 553-562 - Research papers.

Blatrix R., Jaisson P. (2000). Optional gamergates in the queenright ponerine ant Gnamptogenys striatula Mayr. Insectes Sociaux, 47, 193-197 - Research papers.

Giraud T., Blatrix R., Poteaux C., Solignac M., Jaisson P. (2000). Population structure and mating biology of the polygynous ponerine ant Gnamptogenys striatula in Brazil. Molecular Ecology, 9, 1835-1841 - Research papers.

Giraud T., Blatrix R., Solignac M., Jaisson P. (1999). Polymorphic microsatellite DNA markers in the ant Gnamptogenys striatula. Molecular Ecology, 8, 2143-2145 - Research papers.

IBiotic Team


Bertrand SCHATZ


Ana Chuine




Céline BORN
Alexandre GEOFFROY

Anciens de l’équipe en poste ailleurs

Marc-André SELOSSE  (Prof au MNHN Paris)

Roxane DELLE-VEDOVE (ATER à l’Université de Lille)

Catherine SOLER (Ater à l'Université de Saint-Etienne)

Magali PROFFIT (chercheur IMBE)

Thèses de l'équipe 


Mathieu SAUVE

Anciens de l'équipe


Margorie GARCIA
Anthony BAIN