Pathogen defence is a potential driver of social evolution in ambrosia beetles.

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Pathogen defence is a potential driver of social evolution in ambrosia beetles.

Proc Biol Sci. 2019 Dec 18;286(1917):20192332

Authors: Nuotclà JA, Biedermann PHW, Taborsky M

Social immunity-the collective behavioural defences against pathogens-is considered a crucial evolutionary force for the maintenance of insect societies. It has been described and investigated primarily in eusocial insects, but its role in the evolutionary trajectory from parental care to eusociality is little understood. Here, we report on the existence, plasticity, effectiveness and consequences of social pathogen defence in experimental nests of cooperatively breeding ambrosia beetles. After an Aspergillus spore buffer solution or a control buffer solution had been injected in laboratory nests, totipotent adult female workers increased their activity and hygienic behaviours like allogrooming and cannibalism. Such social immune responses had not been described for a non-eusocial, cooperatively breeding insect before. Removal of beetles from Aspergillus-treated nests in a paired experimental design revealed that the hygienic behaviours of beetles significantly reduced pathogen prevalence in the nest. Furthermore, in response to pathogen injections, female helpers delayed dispersal and thus prolonged their cooperative phase within their mother’s nest. Our findings of appropriate social responses to an experimental immune challenge in a cooperatively breeding beetle corroborate the view that social immunity is not an exclusive attribute of eusocial insects, but rather a concomitant and presumably important feature in the evolutionary transitions towards complex social organization.

PMID: 31847779 [PubMed – in process]

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