Insectes Sociaux

, Volume 60, Issue 3, pp 309–317 | Cite as

Evolution of conflict and cooperation of nematodes associated with solitary and social sweat bees

  • Q. S. McFrederick
  • T. H. Roulston
  • D. R. Taylor
Research Article


Parasites and mutualists can wield great influence on the fitness of social organisms, yet the effect that the host’s social structure has on the evolution of parasites, commensals, and mutualists (collectively referred to here as symbionts) is poorly known. Evolutionary theory suggests that host social structure may select for more cooperative symbiont strains in comparison to symbionts of solitary hosts. We compared the productivity of one social and one solitary bee species (Halictus ligatus and Augochlora pura) in the family Halictidae with and without the presence of their nematode symbionts (Acrostichus halicti and Acrostichus puri, respectively). We measured the number of offspring produced, the number of cells provisioned, and nesting activity (for Au. pura) to test the hypothesis that symbionts specific to a social host exhibit greater cooperation than symbionts specific to a solitary host. Infected and uninfected nests of both species did not differ in any fitness estimates indicating that: (1) Acrostichus species are commensals, or at least lack large fitness effects on their hosts, and (2) the transition from association with a solitary host to association with a social host that lives in small colonies does not have detectable effects on the evolution of conflict and cooperation in this system. This is the first comparative study to test the idea that host social structure may influence the evolution of symbionts; future work should compare closely related mutualists and parasites of more advanced eusocial insects to mutualists and parasites of solitary insects.


Primitive eusociality Symbiont evolution Halictidae Acrostichus Augochlora pura Halictus ligatus 



We thank Lindsay Parsons, Jessica Wignall, and Aine O’Sullivan for their assistance in the laboratory and the field; two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments that improved the manuscript; Blandy Experimental Farm for logistic and financial support; and Charles D. Michener for advice on rearing halictids and inspiration. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant 0808454. QSM was supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. PRFB-1003133 during the final stages of preparing this manuscript.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (PDF 142 kb)


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Copyright information

© International Union for the Study of Social Insects (IUSSI) 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Q. S. McFrederick
    • 1
    • 2
  • T. H. Roulston
    • 3
  • D. R. Taylor
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of VirginiaCharlottesvilleUSA
  2. 2.Section of Integrative BiologyUniversity of Texas at AustinAustinUSA
  3. 3.Blandy Experimental Farm, Department of Environmental SciencesUniversity of VirginiaBoyceUSA

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