Inhibition of Fungal Spore Germination by Nasutitermes: Evidence for a Possible Antiseptic Role of Soldier Defensive Secretions

Abstract

The antifungal property of two of the principal components of the terpenoid frontal gland secretions of nasute termite soldiers was studied by incubating spore suspensions of the fungus Metarhizium anisopliae with α-pinene and limonene singly or in combination at different concentrations. In vitro assays showed that these substances reduced spore germination through direct and indirect (vapor) contact. To determine if the frontal gland secretions protected termites from fungal infection in vivo, the effect of M. anisopliae on the time course of survival of Nasutitermes costalis and N. nigriceps was studied by exposing termites to either a 4.3 × 107 spores/ml or a control sporeless suspension. The caste composition of experimental groups was manipulated to create mixed-caste subcolonies and monocaste groups. Relative to Coptotermes formosanus, a species that relies on the mechanical defenses of soldiers, N. costalis and N. nigriceps were less susceptible to fungal infection. Spore-exposed N. costalis and N. nigriceps termites had 1.2 times the hazard ratio of death of controls, while the hazard ratio of death of spore-exposed C. formosanus was 11.4 times that of controls. Although the lower susceptibility to infection in Nasutitermes may be explained in part by the antifungal properties of α-pinene and limonene, group composition also played a major role in the survival of spore-exposed termites. Mixed-caste and soldier monocaste groups had 3.4 and 4.7 times the hazard ratio of death, respectively, relative to the worker monocaste treatment. These results suggest that although Nasutitermes terpenoid secretions may have antifungal properties, the caste composition of groups and the social interactions of termites also play a role in determining susceptibility to fungal infection.

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Rosengaus, R.B., Lefebvre, M.L. & Traniello, J.F.A. Inhibition of Fungal Spore Germination by Nasutitermes: Evidence for a Possible Antiseptic Role of Soldier Defensive Secretions. J Chem Ecol 26, 21–39 (2000). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1005481209579

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  • Disease
  • social behavior
  • fungistatic
  • limonene
  • α-pinene
  • Nasutitermes costalis
  • Nasutitermes nigriceps
  • Metarhizium anisopliae