, Volume 66, Issue 3, pp 467-474
Date: 25 Nov 2011

Effects of the social environment on the survival and fungal resistance of ant brood

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The phenotype of social animals can be influenced by genetic, maternal and environmental effects, which include social interactions during development. In social insects, the social environment and genetic origin of brood can each influence a whole suite of traits, from individual size to caste differentiation. Here, we investigate to which degree the social environment during development affects the survival and fungal resistance of ant brood of known maternal origin. We manipulated one component of the social environment, the worker/brood ratio, of brood originating from single queens of Formica selysi. We monitored the survival of brood and measured the head size and ability to resist the entomopathogenic fungus Beauveria bassiana of the resulting callow workers. The worker/brood ratio and origin of eggs affected the survival and maturation time of the brood and the size of the resulting callow workers. The survival of the callow workers varied greatly according to their origin, both in controls and when challenged with B. bassiana. However, there was no interaction between the fungal challenge and either the worker/brood ratio or origin of eggs, suggesting that these factors did not affect parasite resistance in the conditions tested. Overall, the social conditions during brood rearing and the origin of eggs had a strong impact on brood traits that are important for fitness. We detected a surprisingly large amount of variation among queens in the survival of their brood reared in standard queenless conditions, which calls for further studies on genetic, maternal and social effects influencing brood development in the social insects.

Communicated by J. Heinze