Consequences of the arms race between Maculinea teleius social parasite and Myrmica host ants for myrmecophilous butterfly conservation

Abstract

The arms race between Maculinea butterflies and Myrmica host ants leads to local host-parasite adaptations. In our study, we assessed whether sympatric and allopatric Myrmica scabrinodis populations exhibit behavioural differences towards Maculinea teleius larvae during the adoption-period when butterfly larvae need to be taken inside the Myrmica nest. The second aim was to assess the butterfly survival rate inside ant colonies from different populations. We used one sympatric host population and three allopatric populations: one infested by M. teleius and two uninfested populations. We found that ants from the sympatric population showed a higher number of positive behaviours toward M. teleius larvae during adoption than ants from the allopatric populations. There were no differences in the number of inspection or negative behaviour events. The survival of butterfly larvae was highest inside sympatric host colonies and differed from the survival of M. teleius reared by ants from the allopatric, uninfested populations. No difference was found for the survival rate of M. teleius raised by infested, allopatric host colonies compared to sympatric host populations. Our results suggest the lack of behavioural counter-adaptations of local hosts of M. teleius that more easily adopt and rear butterfly caterpillars compared to naive M. scabrinodis colonies. Our results may also have implications for Maculinea butterfly conservation, especially for reintroduction programmes. We suggest that the existence of behavioural host defences should be checked for the source host population, as well as for the Myrmica population from the reintroduction site. It may also be reasonable to introduce several Myrmica host colonies from the source butterfly host population.

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Acknowledgments

We would like to thank Magdalena Buś for her help with the fieldwork in Bydgoszcz and Włocławek and Marta Wantuch for help during laboratory experiments. We are grateful for the useful comments of Luca Casacci and two anonymous referees with which we were able to make significant improvements to our manuscript. The study was supported by a grant from the Polish National Science Centre to MW (post-doctoral internship No. DEC-2012/04/S/NZ8/00218), EC was supported by a grant of the Romanian National Authority for Scientific Research and Innovation, CNCS—UEFISCDI, project number (PN-II-RU-TE-2014-4-1930). Field surveys were performed under permission issued by the Regional Directorate for Environmental Protection in Kraków.

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Correspondence to Magdalena Witek.

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Witek, M., Ślipiński, P., Trigos Peral, G. et al. Consequences of the arms race between Maculinea teleius social parasite and Myrmica host ants for myrmecophilous butterfly conservation. J Insect Conserv 20, 887–893 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10841-016-9925-3

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Keywords

  • Coevolution
  • Counter-adaptations
  • Host-parasite interaction
  • Phengaris
  • Reintroduction