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Experimentally increased group diversity improves disease resistance in an ant species.
A leading hypothesis linking parasites to social evolution is that more genetically diverse social groups better resist parasites. Moreover, group diversity can encompass factors other than genetic variation that may also influence disease resistance. Here, we tested whether group diversity improved disease resistance in an ant species with natural variation in colony queen number. We formed experimental groups of workers and challenged them with the fungal parasite Metarhizium anisopliae. Workers originating from monogynous colonies (headed by a single queen and with low genetic diversity) had higher survival than workers originating from polygynous ones, both in uninfected groups and in groups challenged with M. anisopliae. However, an experimental increase of group diversity by mixing workers originating from monogynous colonies strongly increased the survival of workers challenged with M. anisopliae, whereas it tended to decrease their survival in absence of infection. This experiment suggests that group diversity, be it genetic or environmental, improves the mean resistance of group members to the fungal infection, probably through the sharing of physiological or behavioural defences.
Animals, Ants/genetics, Ants/immunology, Female, Genetic Variation, Genotype, Host-Pathogen Interactions, Immunity, Innate, Male, Metarhizium/physiology, Microsatellite Repeats/genetics
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