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Modeling the impact of ex-nido transmitted parasites on ant colony dynamics

By Lauren E. Quevillon, David P. Hughes, Jessica M Conway

Posted 14 Nov 2018
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/470575

Infectious disease outbreaks are a common constraint of group living organisms. Ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) live in large, dense colonies and are host to a diverse range of parasites and pathogens, facilitating the possibility of epidemic-induced collapse. However, the majority of parasites infecting ants require a period of development outside of the nest before they can transmit to their next ant host (ex-nido transmission) and the impact of these parasites on colony dynamics is unknown. Here we develop a mathematical model to assess ant colony dynamics in the presence of such parasites. We find that under field-realistic model conditions, such parasites are unlikely to cause the epidemic collapse of mature ant colonies, unless colony birth rate drops below 0.2328 ants/day. The preponderance of ex-nido transmitting parasites infecting ants and their limited epidemiological impact on colony dynamics may partly explain why collapsed ant colonies are rarely, if ever, observed in natural populations.

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