Increased genetic diversity from colony merging in termites does not improve survival against a fungal pathogen
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In some species of social insects the increased genetic diversity from having multiple breeders in a colony has been shown to improve pathogen resistance. Termite species typically found colonies from single mated pairs and therefore may lack the flexibility to buffer pathogen pressure with increased genetic diversity by varying the initial number of reproductives. However, they can later increase group diversity through colony merging, resulting in a genetically diverse, yet cohesive, workforce. In this study, we investigate whether the increased group diversity from colony fusion benefits social immunity in the subterranean termite Reticulitermes flavipes. We confirm previous findings that colonies of R. flavipes will readily merge and we show that workers will equally groom nestmates and non-nestmates after merging. Despite this, the survival of these merged colonies was not improved after exposure to a fungal pathogen, but instead leveled to that of the more susceptible or the more resistant colony. Our study brings little support to the hypothesis that colony fusion may improve immunity through an increase of genetic diversity in R. flavipes. Instead, we find that following exposure to a lethal pathogen, one colony is heavily influential to the entire group's survival after merging.
author list (cited authors)
Aguero, C. M., Eyer, P., & Vargo, E. L.