Social evolution; Parasites; Population genetics; Behaviour; Entomopathogenic fungi; Ants; Social insects; fungi; social behaviour; evolution
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, The evolution of eusociality.
Social groups are vulnerable to parasites, because frequent social contacts and high genetic relatedness facilitate the spread and adaptation of parasites within groups. Hence, parasites can affect the evolution and organization of social groups, and may in particular select for more genetically diverse groups. Conversely, social life permits the evolution of collective behavioural defences and the emergence of novel group-level adaptations to resist parasites. This project focuses on the impact of entomopathogenic fungi on ant societies of various degrees of complexity and on the collective defences of ants against these fungi. We will use the socially polymorphic ant Formica selysi and its naturally occurring fungal parasites as a model system. This system is highly appropriate to study the relationship between parasites and social structure variation because single-queen colonies (with low genetic diversity) and multiple-queen colonies (with high genetic diversity) of F. selysi occur in the same population. Moreover, we have already identified three entomopathogenic fungi infecting F. selysi in nature, Metarhizium anisopliae, Beauveria bassiana and Paecilomyces lilacinus. We will combine field surveys and laboratory experiments to (1) investigate the prevalence and genetic diversity of these three entomopathogenic fungi in single- and multiple-queen colonies (2) assess the impact of M. anisopliae and B. bassiana on experimental groups of ant differing in diversity (varying genetic diversity, genotypic composition, body size distribution and past exposition to pathogens) (3) investigate the behavioural defences of ants against fungal pathogens, at both the individual and collective levels and (4) test if the exposition to fungal pathogens favours independent colony founding by multiple queens over solitary colony founding. These experiments will provide major insights into how fungal parasites and insect societies interact. In particular, they will reveal if parasites select for more diverse social groups, and shed light on novel modes of defences emerging at the group-level through collective action or social transfer of immunity. More generally, these results should contribute to a better understanding of the influence of parasites on the organisation and evolution of societies.