Immune defences in ants: Effects of social immunisation and a fungal ectosymbiont in the ant Lasius neglectus Dissertation Thesis

Author(s): Konrad, Matthias
Advisor(s): Cremer, Sylvia
Title: Immune defences in ants: Effects of social immunisation and a fungal ectosymbiont in the ant Lasius neglectus
Affiliation IST Austria
Abstract: In this thesis I studied various individual and social immune defences employed by the invasive garden ant Lasius neglectus mostly against entomopathogenic fungi. The first two chapters of this thesis address the phenomenon of 'social immunisation'. Social immunisation, that is the immunological protection of group members due to social contact to a pathogen-exposed nestmate, has been described in various social insect species against different types of pathogens. However, in the case of entomopathogenic fungi it has, so far, only been demonstrated that social immunisation exists at all. Its underlying mechanisms r any other properties were, however, unknown. In the first chapter of this thesis I identified the mechanistic basis of social immunisation in L. neglectus against the entomopathogenous fungus Metarhizium. I could show that nestmates of a pathogen-exposed individual contract low-level infections due to social interactions. These low-level infections are, however, non-lethal and cause an active stimulation of the immune system, which protects the nestmates upon subsequent pathogen encounters. In the second chapter of this thesis I investigated the specificity and colony level effects of social immunisation. I demonstrated that the protection conferred by social immunisation is highly specific, protecting ants only against the same pathogen strain. In addition, depending on the respective context, social immunisation may even cause fitness costs. I further showed that social immunisation crucially affects sanitary behaviour and disease dynamics within ant groups. In the third chapter of this thesis I studied the effects of the ectosymbiotic fungus Laboulbenia formicarum on its host L. neglectus. Although Laboulbeniales are the largest order of insect-parasitic fungi, research concerning host fitness consequence is sparse. I showed that highly Laboulbenia-infected ants sustain fitness costs under resource limitation, however, gain fitness benefits when exposed to an entomopathogenus fungus. These effects are probably cause by a prophylactic upregulation of behavioural as well as physiological immune defences in highly infected ants.
Publication Title: IST Dissertation
Degree Granting Institution: IST Austria  
Degree: PhD
Degree Date: 2014-02-01
Start Page: 1
Total Pages: 131
Open access: no