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Pathogens, parasites, and parasitoids of ants: a synthesis of parasite biodiversity and epidemiological traits

By Lauren E. Quevillon, David P. Hughes

Posted 05 Aug 2018
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/384495

Ants are among the most ecologically successful organisms on Earth, with a global distribution and diverse nesting and foraging ecologies. Ants are also social organisms, living in crowded, dense colonies that can range up to millions of individuals. Understanding the ecological success of the ants requires understanding how they have mitigated one of the major costs of social living- infection by parasitic organisms. Additionally, the ecological diversity of ants suggests that they may themselves harbor a diverse, and largely unknown, assemblage of parasites. As a first step, we need to know the taxonomic and functional diversity of the parasitic organisms infecting ants. To that end, we provide a comprehensive review of the parasitic organisms infecting ants by collecting all extant records. We synthesize major patterns in parasite ecology by categorizing how parasites encounter their ant hosts, whether they require host death as a developmental necessity, and how they transmit to future hosts. We report 1,415 records of parasitic organisms infecting ants, the majority of which come from order Diptera (34.8%), phylum Fungi (25.6%), and order Hymenoptera (25.1%). Most parasitic organisms infecting ants are parasitoids (89.6%), requiring the death of their host as developmental necessity and most initially encounter their hosts in the extranidal environment (68.6%). Importantly, though most parasitic organisms infecting ants only need a single host to complete their life cycle (89.2%), the vast majority need to leave the nest before transmission to the next ant host can occur (88.3%), precluding ant-to-ant transmission within the nest. With respect to the host, we only found records for 9 out of 17 extant ant sub-families, and for 82 out of the currently recognized 334 ant genera. Though there is likely bias in the records reported, both host and parasite ecological traits and evolutionary histories underlie the pattern of ant-parasite association reported here. This work provides a foundation for future work that will begin to untangle the ecological drivers of ant-parasite relationships and the evolutionary implications thereof.

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