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Wood ants protect their brood with tree resin
Social insects use multiple lines of collective defences to combat pathogens. One example of a behav- ioural group defence is the use of antimicrobial plant compounds to disinfect the nest. Indeed, wood ants collect coniferous tree resin, and the presence of resin in their nest protects them against fungal and bacterial pathogens. Many questions remain on the mechanisms of resin use, including which factors elicit resin collection and placement within nests. Here, we investigated whether the presence of brood induces Formica paralugubris workers to collect more resin, and whether the workers preferentially place resin near the brood. We also tested whether the collection and placement of resin depends on the presence of the fungal entomopathogen Beauveria bassiana. Workers brought more resin to their nest when brood was present, and preferentially placed the resin near the brood. In contrast, workers did not increase resin collection in response to exposure to B. bassiana, nor did they place resin closer to contaminated brood or contaminated areas of the nest. This lack of response may be explained by a limited effect of resin against the germination and growth of B. bassiana in vitro. Overall, our main result is that woods ants actively position resin near the brood, which probably confers prophylactic protection against other detrimental microorganisms.
ant, brood protection, Formica paralugubris, prophylaxis, resin, sanitation, self-medication, social immunity, social insects
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