Evolution of a fungal pathogen towards individual versus social immunity in ants Dissertation Thesis

Author(s): Stock, Miriam
Advisor(s): Cremer, Sylvia
Committee Chair(s): Bollback, Jonathan
Committee Member(s): Schulenberg, Heinrich; Heinze, J├╝rgen
Title: Evolution of a fungal pathogen towards individual versus social immunity in ants
Affiliation IST Austria
Abstract: The co-evolution of hosts and pathogens is characterized by continuous adaptations of both parties. Pathogens of social insects need to adapt towards disease defences at two levels: 1) individual immunity of each colony member consisting of behavioural defence strategies as well as humoral and cellular immune responses and 2) social immunity that is collectively performed by all group members comprising behavioural, physiological and organisational defence strategies. To disentangle the selection pressure on pathogens by the collective versus individual level of disease defence in social insects, we performed an evolution experiment using the Argentine Ant, Linepithema humile, as a host and a mixture of the general insect pathogenic fungus Metarhizium spp. (6 strains) as a pathogen. We allowed pathogen evolution over 10 serial host passages to two different evolution host treatments: (1) only individual host immunity in a single host treatment, and (2) simultaneously acting individual and social immunity in a social host treatment, in which an exposed ant was accompanied by two untreated nestmates. Before starting the pathogen evolution experiment, the 6 Metarhizium spp. strains were characterised concerning conidiospore size killing rates in singly and socially reared ants, their competitiveness under coinfecting conditions and their influence on ant behaviour. We analysed how the ancestral atrain mixture changed in conidiospere size, killing rate and strain composition dependent on host treatment (single or social hosts) during 10 passages and found that killing rate and conidiospere size of the pathogen increased under both evolution regimes, but different depending on host treatment. Testing the evolved strain mixtures that evolved under either the single or social host treatment under both single and social current rearing conditions in a full factorial design experiment revealed that the additional collective defences in insect societies add new selection pressure for their coevolving pathogens that compromise their ability to adapt to its host at the group level. To our knowledge, this is the first study directly measuring the influence of social immunity on pathogen evolution.
Publication Title: IST Dissertation
Degree Granting Institution: IST Austria  
Degree: PhD
Degree Date: 2014-04-01
Start Page: 1
Total Pages: 101
Sponsor: This work was funded by the DFG and the ERC.
Open access: no