Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 59, Issue 2, pp 222–233 | Cite as

Parasitism in a social wasp: effect of gregarines on foraging behavior, colony productivity, and adult mortality

  • Andrew M. Bouwma
  • Kenneth J. Howard
  • Robert L. Jeanne
Original Article


Behavior in eusocial insects likely reflects a long history of selection imposed by parasites and pathogens because the conditions of group living often favor the transmission of infection among nestmates. Yet, relatively few studies have quantified the effects of parasites on both the level of individual colony members and of colony success, making it difficult to assess the relative importance of different parasites to the behavioral ecology of their social insect hosts. Colonies of Polybia occidentalis, a Neotropical social wasp, are commonly infected by gregarines (Phylum Apicomplexa; Order Eugregarinida) during the wet season in Guanacaste, Costa Rica. To determine the effect of gregarine infection on individual workers in P. occidentalis, we measured foraging rates of marked wasps from colonies comprising both infected and uninfected individuals. To assess the effect of gregarines on colony success, we measured productivity and adult mortality rates in colonies with different levels of infection prevalence (proportion of adults infected). Foraging rates in marked individuals were negatively correlated with the intensity of gregarine infection. Infected colonies with high gregarine prevalence constructed nests with fewer brood cells per capita, produced less brood biomass per capita, and, surprisingly, experienced lower adult mortality rates than did uninfected or lightly infected colonies. These data strongly suggest that gregarine infection lowers foraging rates, thus reducing risk to foragers and, consequently, reducing adult mortality rates, while at the same time lowering per-capita input of materials and colony productivity. In infected colonies, queen populations were infected with a lower prevalence than were workers. Intra-colony infection prevalence decreased dramatically in the P. occidentalis population during the wet season.


Polybia occidentalis Polistinae Per-capita productivity Disease Foraging Eugregarinida Parasites 



Our thanks go to Paul Hanson, curator of the Museo de Insectos of the Universidad de Costa Rica–San Pedro, for providing us with chemicals, for logistical support, and for the loan of specimens. We collected all specimens under the auspices of the Escuela de Biología and the Museo de Insectos of the Universidad de Costa Rica. We are grateful to the Hagnauer family in Costa Rica for permission to work on their property and for providing constant logistical support. Peter Bouwma, Andrew Carmichael, Kory Kramer and Miranda Moon provided invaluable assistance with data collection. Adam Smith shared methods for etherizing and marking wasps. Sean O'Donnell shared methods and provided valuable feedback on the ideas herein. Kevin Gross and Erik Nordheim provided statistical advice. James Traniello and two anonymous reviewers suggested ways to improve the manuscript. John Janovy Jr determined the gregarines as an undescribed species and was helpful and generous with his time in discussions of these results. This research was supported by National Science Foundation grant IBN-9514010 to RLJ, a Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute Short-Term Fellowship to AMB, University of Wisconsin–Madison Department of Zoology research grants to AMB and KJH, a National Science Foundation Pre-doctoral Fellowship to KJH, and by the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, University of Wisconsin–Madison. The experiments performed comply with the current laws of Costa Rica.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Andrew M. Bouwma
    • 1
  • Kenneth J. Howard
    • 2
  • Robert L. Jeanne
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of EntomologyUniversity of WisconsinMadisonUSA
  2. 2.Department of ZoologyUniversity of WisconsinMadisonUSA

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