Repeated pathogen exposure is a common threat in colonies of social insects, posing selection pressures on colony members to respond with improved disease-defense performance. We here tested whether experience gained by repeated tending of low-level fungus-exposed (Metarhizium robertsii) larvae may alter the performance of sanitary brood care in the clonal ant, Platythyrea punctata. We trained ants individually over nine consecutive trials to either sham-treated or fungus-exposed larvae. We then compared the larval grooming behavior of naive and trained ants and measured how effectively they removed infectious fungal conidiospores from the fungus-exposed larvae. We found that the ants changed the duration of larval grooming in response to both, larval treatment and their level of experience: (1) sham-treated larvae received longer grooming than the fungus-exposed larvae and (2) trained ants performed less self-grooming but longer larval grooming than naive ants, which was true for both, ants trained to fungus-exposed and also to sham-treated larvae. Ants that groomed the fungus-exposed larvae for longer periods removed a higher number of fungal conidiospores from the surface of the fungus-exposed larvae. As experienced ants performed longer larval grooming, they were more effective in fungal removal, thus making them better caretakers under pathogen attack of the colony. By studying this clonal ant, we can thus conclude that even in the absence of genetic variation between colony members, differences in experience levels of brood care may affect performance of sanitary brood care in social insects.
Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
We thank Katrin Kellner for colony establishment and characterization, Mike Bidochka for the fungal strain, Meghan Vyleta for fungal strain characterization, Martina Klatt and Simon Tragust for help in the laboratory, Dimitri Missoh for developing the software BioLogic, and Mark Brown and Raphaël Jeanson for discussion and help with data analysis. The study was funded by the European Research Council (ERC Starting Grant to SC; Marie Curie IEF to LVU) and the German Research Foundation DFG (to SC and to JH), and CW received funding by the doctoral school Diversité du Vivant (Cotutelle project to CD and SC).
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Westhus C, Ugelvig LV, Tourdot E, Heinze J, Doums C, Cremer S. Increased grooming after repeated brood care provides sanitary benefits in a clonal ant. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology. 2014;68(10):1701-1710. doi:10.1007/s00265-014-1778-8
Westhus, C., Ugelvig, L. V., Tourdot, E., Heinze, J., Doums, C., & Cremer, S. (2014). Increased grooming after repeated brood care provides sanitary benefits in a clonal ant. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology. Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00265-014-1778-8
Westhus, Claudia, Line V Ugelvig, Edouard Tourdot, Jürgen Heinze, Claudie Doums, and Sylvia Cremer. “Increased Grooming after Repeated Brood Care Provides Sanitary Benefits in a Clonal Ant.” Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology. Springer, 2014. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00265-014-1778-8.
C. Westhus, L. V. Ugelvig, E. Tourdot, J. Heinze, C. Doums, and S. Cremer, “Increased grooming after repeated brood care provides sanitary benefits in a clonal ant,” Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, vol. 68, no. 10. Springer, pp. 1701–1710, 2014.
Westhus C, Ugelvig LV, Tourdot E, Heinze J, Doums C, Cremer S. 2014. Increased grooming after repeated brood care provides sanitary benefits in a clonal ant. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology. 68(10), 1701–1710.
Westhus, Claudia, et al. “Increased Grooming after Repeated Brood Care Provides Sanitary Benefits in a Clonal Ant.” Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, vol. 68, no. 10, Springer, 2014, pp. 1701–10, doi:10.1007/s00265-014-1778-8.
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