Disease in the society: Infectious cadavers result in collapse of ant sub-colonies

Raquel G. Loreto, David P. Hughes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

6 Scopus citations

Abstract

Despite the growing number of experimental studies on mechanisms of social immunity in ant societies, little is known about how social behavior relates to disease progression within the nests of ants. In fact, when empirically studying disease in ant societies, it is common to remove dead ants from experiments to confirm infection by the studied parasite. This unfortunately does not allow disease to progress within the nest as it may be assumed would happen under natural conditions. Therefore, the approach taken so far has resulted in a limited knowledge of diseases dynamics within the nest environment. Here we introduced a single infectious cadaver killed by the fungus Beauveria bassiana into small nests of the ant Camponotus castaneus.We then observed the natural progression of the disease by not removing the corpses of the ants that died following the first entry of the disease. Because some behaviors such as social isolation of sick individuals or the removal of cadavers by nestmates are considered social immune functions and thus adaptations at the colony level that reduce disease spread, we also experimentally confined some sub-colonies to one or two chamber nests to prevent the expression of such behaviors. Based on 51 small nests and survival studies in 1,003 ants we found that a single introduced infectious cadaver was able to transmit within the nest, and social immunity did not prevent the collapse of the small sub-colonies here tested. This was true whether ants did or did not have the option to remove the infectious cadaver. Therefore, we found no evidence that the typically studied social immunity behaviors can reduce disease spread in the conditions here tested.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0160820
JournalPloS one
Volume11
Issue number8
DOIs
StatePublished - Aug 2016

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All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General

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