The epizootiology of a Metarhizium infection in mini-nests of the leaf-cutting ant Atta sexdens rubropilosa

Jaccoud, D. B., Hughes, W O H and Jackson, C W (1999) The epizootiology of a Metarhizium infection in mini-nests of the leaf-cutting ant Atta sexdens rubropilosa. Entomologia Experimentalis et Applicata, 93 (1). pp. 51-61. ISSN 0013-8703

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There is growing interest in the use of entomopathogenic organisms to control leaf-cutting ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae: Attini). However, the way leaf-cutting ants react as a colony to biohazards is poorly understood. We investigated the effects of Metarhizium anisopliae (Metschnikoff) (Deuteromycotina: Hyphomycetes) applied to the foraging arenas of mini-nests (queenless sub-colonies) of the leaf-cutting ant Atta sexdens rubropilosa (Forel). Dry spores were applied either alone or mixed with citrus powder, at 0.5 g or 0.05 g per mini-nest. The spores were removed four days after application, and all dead ants removed every three days. Ant numbers near the Metarhizium increased as the ants attempted to clean up the biohazard. The ants attempted to place the spores in piles, which they then covered over with other material. They were able to deal with the low doses in this way, but the high doses overwhelmed them. All treated mini-nests suffered increased ant mortality during the first ten days after application. This mortality was particularly high in the media worker caste which had played the major role in attempting to clean up the spores. Foraging activity decreased, as did the health of the fungus gardens. The mini-nests exposed to the low dose of spores mixed with citrus powder then recovered fully. The health of the other treated mini-nests declined gradually until around 26 days after application, when they began deteriorating sharply. However, the decline of these mini-nests after day 26 was not due directly to the pathogenic action of the Metarhizium, nor to the initial ant mortality it had caused. The results suggest that the social stress caused by even such a short-lived Metarhizium epizootic was sufficient to cause the decline and ultimate death of the mini-nests. This has important implications for the control of leaf-cutting ants. It also demonstrates how important the social homeostasis of the colony is to leaf-cutting ants.

Item Type: Article
Schools and Departments: School of Life Sciences > Evolution, Behaviour and Environment
Depositing User: William Hughes
Date Deposited: 04 Apr 2016 08:06
Last Modified: 04 Apr 2016 08:06
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