This is the homepage of the PN-II-RU-TE-2014-4-1930 research programme run in the frame of the Sociobiology Workgroup of the Hungarian Department of Biology and Ecology, Faculty of Biology and Ecology, Babeș-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca, Romania
Social cohesion at challenge: individual and social adaptations to myrmecoparasitic fungi in ants
Social animals, although well-armed against parasites because of the protective nature of the social system, are nevertheless exposed to several parasitic organisms. Ant societies are also attractive targets, as they consist of dense groups of hosts, while the high frequency of interactions among members and the existence of overlapping generations enable the fast spread and persistence of parasites. Among ant parasitic organisms, fungi are one of the most diverse groups. Despite the increasing amount of data on their occurrence, only scarce data is available on the effects of obligatory ant parasitic fungi on host individuals and society. In the frame of the current project we study the effects of two obligatory myrmecoparasitic fungi (Rickia wasmannii and Pandora myrmecophaga) with different strategies – lethal vs non-lethal, endo- vs ectoparasitic – on their ant hosts, while also assessing individual and social defense strategies that help ants control the infection. We seek individual level responses in cuticular structure, internal anatomical changes, immune response efficiency, and changes in the activity of infected workers. The society is also challenged: changes in colony structure, in division of labour, and in corpse handling activity will be studied in infected colonies. Both behavioural and molecular methods are applied.