Social prophylaxis: group interaction promotes collective immunity in ant colonies Journal Article

Author(s): Ugelvig, Line V; Cremer, Sylvia
Article Title: Social prophylaxis: group interaction promotes collective immunity in ant colonies
Abstract: Life in a social group increases the risk of disease transmission. To counteract this threat, social insects have evolved manifold antiparasite defenses, ranging from social exclusion of infected group members to intensive care. It is generally assumed that individuals performing hygienic behaviors risk infecting themselves, suggesting a high direct cost of helping. Our work instead indicates the opposite for garden ants. Social contact with individual workers, which were experimentally exposed to a fungal parasite, provided a clear survival benefit to nontreated, naive group members upon later challenge with the same parasite. This first demonstration of contact immunity in Social Hymenoptera and complementary results from other animal groups and plants suggest its general importance in both antiparasite and antiherbivore defense. In addition to this physiological prophylaxis of adult ants, infection of the brood was prevented in our experiment by behavioral changes of treated and naive workers. Parasite-treated ants stayed away from the brood chamber, whereas their naive nestmates increased brood-care activities. Our findings reveal a direct benefit for individuals to perform hygienic behaviors toward others, and this might explain the widely observed maintenance of social cohesion under parasite attack in insect societies.
Journal Title: Current Biology
Volume: 17
Issue 22
ISSN: 0960-9822
Publisher: Cell Press  
Date Published: 2007-11-20
Start Page: 1967
End Page: 1971
DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2007.10.029
Open access: no