Evol Ecol Res 8: 1117-1128 (2006)     Full PDF if your library subscribes.

Parasite virulence and host resistance in a slave-making ant community

Jeremy M. Bono,* Michael F. Antolin and Joan M. Herbers‡

Department of Biology, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80523, USA

Address all correspondence to Jeremy Bono, Department of Biosciences, Simon Fraser University, 8888 University Drive, Burnaby, BC V3K 3A4, Canada.
e-mail: jeremy_bono@sfu.ca


Questions: Does virulence of socially parasitic slave-making ants vary in interactions with different host species? If so, can this be linked to host properties such as nest availability or resistance of host species?

Study system: Our study system included three slave-making ant species, Polyergus breviceps, Formica puberula, and F. gynocrates, and two host species, F. occulta and F. sp. cf. argentea.

Methods: We measured slave-maker virulence by comparing the mortality rates of host nests that were raided by slave-makers to host nests that were not raided. To determine whether slave-makers that were more likely to over-exploit slave resources were more prudent (lower virulence), we compared the percentage of nests that were raided for each host species. To determine whether variation in slave-maker virulence was due to different levels of host resistance, we compared the aggressiveness of the two host species towards slave-makers during slave raids, reasoning that nests of a more aggressive host species would show higher survivorship.

Results: Slave-makers were highly virulent in association with the host, F. sp. cf. argentea, but more benign in interactions with F. occulta. Formica occulta was not universally more aggressive against slave-makers than F. sp. cf. argentea, suggesting that this alone is not a sufficient explanation for the higher survivorship of this species. Slave-makers that specialized on F. occulta were at higher risk of over-exploiting resources, indicating that more prudent slave-maker strategies might be selected for in interactions with this host.

Keywords: co-evolution, Formicidae, Polyergus, social parasites, virulence.

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