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No benefit in diversity? The effect of genetic variation on survival and disease resistance in a polygynous social insect

Authors

  • ANNA M. SCHMIDT,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Biology, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark
      Anna M. Schmidt, Department of Biology, University of Copenhagen, Universitetsparken 15, DK-2100 Copenhagen, Denmark. E-mail: amschmidt@psu.edu
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    • Current address: Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics, Pennsylvania State University, Millennium Science Complex, University Park, PA 16802, U.S.A.

  • TIMOTHY A. LINKSVAYER,

    1. Department of Biology, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark
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    • Current address: Department of Biology, University of Pennsylvania, 433 South University Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6018, U.S.A.

  • JACOBUS J. BOOMSMA,

    1. Department of Biology, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark
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  • JES S. PEDERSEN

    1. Department of Biology, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark
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Anna M. Schmidt, Department of Biology, University of Copenhagen, Universitetsparken 15, DK-2100 Copenhagen, Denmark. E-mail: amschmidt@psu.edu

Abstract

1. Multiple mating by queens has been shown to enhance disease resistance in insect societies, because higher genetic diversity among nestmates improves collective immune defences or offers a certain level of herd immunity. However, it has remained ambiguous whether polygynous societies with large numbers of queens also benefit from increased genetic diversity.

2. We used one of the very few ant species that can be reared across generations, the pharaoh ant, Monomorium pharaonis Linnaeus, to create experimental colonies with two types of enhanced genetic diversity: (i) mixed workers from three divergent inbred lineages representing the ‘polygyny-equivalent' of multiple mating by queens (i.e. increased between-worker variation); and (ii) uniform workers whose overall heterozygosity was increased by two subsequent generations of crossing between the same divergent inbred lineages (i.e. increased within-worker variation).

3. We found significant differences in worker survival among the three inbred lineages, with exposure to conidiospores of the fungal pathogen Beauveria bassiana causing significant mortality to the workers independently of their diversity type. Increased diversity did not improve the resistance to Beauveria.

4. Enhanced heterozygosity colonies had worker survival rates similar to the most resistant inbred lineage, whereas colonies with mixed workers from the three inbred lineages had lower worker and larval survival. Workers did not show any infection-avoidance behaviour.

5. Average larval survival appeared unaffected by the presence of conidiospores. It benefitted from increased heterozygosity but was reduced in mixed colonies independent of infection. This suggests that negative, but cryptic social interactions in mixed colonies may affect overall survival.

6. The present results do not provide evidence for or against a link between increased genetic variation and increased disease resistance in pharaoh ants, but show that colonies differ considerably in general survival. Thus, increasing the genetic diversity of pharaoh ant colonies may not provide survival advantages in the face of pathogen exposure, and polygyny and polyandry may not be directly comparable mechanisms for creating adaptive resistance towards pathogens.

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