Parasite transmission plays a central role in disease dynamics, but little is known about the extent to which direct and indirect transmission contributes to disease dynamics in group-living animals. Quantifying transmission by contact or exposure is challenging, as direct measurements of pathogen transmission are often impractical and individual behaviour is largely unknown. Here, we attempt to tackle these twin problems through the use of a generalist entomopathogenic fungus Metarhizium robertsii to study direct and indirect transmission in the black carpenter ant Camponotus pennsylvanicus. We provide evidence that large quantities of fungal conidia (spores) can be acquired over time on the ant's cuticle and significant amounts are shed into the environment, allowing indirect transmission. Unexposed ants in the nest can be infected either through direct (i.e. social contacts) or indirect (i.e. acquisition from the environment) transmission, potentially leading to the same mortality as if all individuals of a nest would have been directly exposed to the pathogen. Our findings highlight the importance of indirect transmission routes in a species of social living organisms.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics