Arboreality and the evolution of disease resistance in ants

Walker, Thomas N and Hughes, William O H (2011) Arboreality and the evolution of disease resistance in ants. Ecological Entomology, 36 (5). pp. 588-595. ISSN 0307-6946

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1. Parasites are an important selective force for almost all organisms and drive the evolution by hosts of defence mechanisms that are energetically costly. The strength of parasitism will vary between host species according to their specific ecology and life history, and so the optimal investment in costly resistance mechanisms is also likely to vary between host species with differing ecologies. 2. Parasites are particularly important for social species such as ants, but very little is known about the strength of selection in different species. It has been suggested that, because arboreality reduces exposure to soil-borne fungal pathogens, arboreal ant species may invest less in disease resistance. However, testing hypotheses such as this requires data on disease resistance in multiple species, and such studies have not previously been attempted. 3. Here we examine the arboreality hypothesis by comparing the disease resistance of seven Neotropical ant species with different degrees of arboreality. We exposed ants to controlled doses of the generalist, virulent fungal parasite, Metarhizium anisopliae (Metchnikoff) Sorokin. We then monitored survival, parasite sporulation, and the anti-fungal grooming response of the ants. 4. Contrary to the hypothesis, we found that arboreal species were not less resistant to M. anisopliae than species that were ground-dwelling, and that the species that inhabited both arboreal and ground habitats had the greatest resistance. Surprisingly, the most resistant species was one that lacked the antibiotic-producing metapleural gland, previously considered the lynchpin of disease resistance in ants. 5. The results suggest that it may be the diversity of parasites encountered that is the greatest selection pressure. Further experimental studies with other parasites are needed to confirm the generality of the results, and similar comparative studies of other taxa are needed to understand the relationship between host ecology and the evolution of disease resistance.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: Grooming life history metapleural gland parasite social insect
Schools and Departments: School of Life Sciences > Evolution, Behaviour and Environment
Depositing User: William Hughes
Date Deposited: 11 Nov 2015 08:45
Last Modified: 11 Nov 2015 08:45
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