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Foraging Macrotermes natalensis Fungus-Growing Termites Avoid a Mycopathogen but Not an Entomopathogen

Subterranean Termite Social Alarm and Hygienic Responses to Fungal Pathogens

Department of Biological Sciences, Towson University, 341 Smith Hall, 8000 York Rd., Towson, MD 21252, USA
Towson High School, 69 Cedar Ave, Towson, MD 21286, USA
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Insects 2019, 10(8), 240;
Received: 6 June 2019 / Revised: 1 August 2019 / Accepted: 2 August 2019 / Published: 5 August 2019
(This article belongs to the Collection Biology of Social Insect Diseases)
In social insects, alerting nestmates to the presence of a pathogen should be critical for limiting its spread and initiating social mechanisms of defense. Here we show that subterranean termites use elevated vibratory alarm behavior to help prevent fatal fungal infections. The elevated alarm leads to elevated social hygiene. This requires that termites coalesce so that they can groom each other’s cuticular surfaces of contaminating conidial spores. Groups of 12 Reticulitermes flavipes workers varied in their response when immersed in conidia solutions of nine different strains of Metarhizium. Pathogen alarm displays of short 2–7-second bursts of rapid longitudinal oscillatory movement (LOM), observed over 12 min following a fungal challenge, were positively correlated with the time that workers spent aggregated together grooming each other. The frequency of these LOMs was inversely correlated with fatal fungal infections. The variation in fatalities appeared to be largely attributable to a differential response to Metarhizium brunneum and Metarhizium robertsii in the time spent in aggregations and the frequency of allogrooming. Isolated workers challenged with conidia did not display LOMs, which suggests that the alarm is a conditional social response. LOMs appear to help signal the presence of fungal pathogens whose virulence depends on the level of this emergency alert. View Full-Text
Keywords: social immunity; entomopathogens; alarm behavior; allogrooming; Metarhizium social immunity; entomopathogens; alarm behavior; allogrooming; Metarhizium
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    Description: Reticulitermes flavipes worker alarm response when presented with a sporulating cadaver infected with Metarhizium robertsii (top petri-dish) or an uninfected cadaver (bottom dish).
MDPI and ACS Style

Bulmer, M.S.; Franco, B.A.; Fields, E.G. Subterranean Termite Social Alarm and Hygienic Responses to Fungal Pathogens. Insects 2019, 10, 240.

AMA Style

Bulmer MS, Franco BA, Fields EG. Subterranean Termite Social Alarm and Hygienic Responses to Fungal Pathogens. Insects. 2019; 10(8):240.

Chicago/Turabian Style

Bulmer, Mark S., Bruno A. Franco, and Edith G. Fields. 2019. "Subterranean Termite Social Alarm and Hygienic Responses to Fungal Pathogens" Insects 10, no. 8: 240.

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