Disease resistance in a weaver ant, Polyrhachis dives, and the role of antibiotic-producing glands

Graystock, Peter and Hughes, William (2011) Disease resistance in a weaver ant, Polyrhachis dives, and the role of antibiotic-producing glands. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 65 (12). pp. 2319-2327. ISSN 0340-5443

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Abstract

Parasites represent one of the main threats to all organisms and are likely to be particularly significant for social animals because of the increased potential for intragroup transmission. Social animals must therefore have effective resistance mechanisms against parasites and one of the most important components of disease resistance in ants is thought to be the antibiotic-producing metapleural gland. This gland is ancestral in ants, but has been lost secondarily in a small number of species. It is unknown whether these evolutionary losses are due to a reduction in parasite pressure or the replacement of the gland’s function with other resistance mechanisms. Here we used the generalist entomopathogenic fungus Metarhizium to compare the disease resistance of a species of a weaver ant, Polyrhachis dives , which has lost the metapleural gland, with that of the well-studied leaf-cutting ant Acromyrmex echinatior and two other ant species, Myrmica ruginodis and Formica fusca , all of which have metapleural glands. The P. dives weaver ants had intermediate resistance when kept individually, and similar resistance to A. echinatior leaf-cutting ants when kept in groups, suggesting that the loss of the metapleural gland has not resulted in weaver ants having reduced disease resistance. P. dives weaver ants self-groomed at a significantly higher rate than the other ants examined and apparently use their venom for resistance, as they had reduced resistance when their venom gland was blocked and the venom was shown in vitro to prevent the germination of fungal spores. Unexpectedly, the leaf-cutting ant A. echinatior also had reduced resistance to Metarhizium when its venom gland was blocked. It therefore appears that the evolutionary loss of the metapleural gland does not result in reduced disease resistance in P. dives weaver ants, and that this at least in part may be due to the ants having antimicrobial venom and high self-grooming rates. The results therefore emphasise the importance of multiple, complementary mechanisms in the disease resistance of ant societies.

Item Type: Article
Schools and Departments: School of Life Sciences > Biology and Environmental Science
Subjects: Q Science > QL Zoology > QL0360 Invertebrates > QL0434 Arthropoda > QL0463 Insects > QL0563 Hymenoptera > QL0568.A-Z Systematic divisions. By family, A-Z > QL0568.F7 Formicidae (Ants)
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Depositing User: Peter Graystock
Date Deposited: 10 Jan 2014 15:03
Last Modified: 07 Mar 2017 04:54
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/47036

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