Social insects have a very high potential to become invasive pest species. Here, we explore how their social lifestyle and their interaction with parasites may contribute to this invasive success. Similar to solitary species, parasite release followed by the evolution of increased competitive ability can promote establishment of introduced social insect hosts in their introduced range. Genetic bottlenecks during introduction of low numbers of founder individuals decrease the genetic diversity at three levels: the population, the colony and the individual, with the colony level being specific to social insects. Reduced genetic diversity can affect both the individual immune system and the collective colony-level disease defences (social immunity). Still, the dual immune system is likely to make social insects more robust to parasite attack. Changes in social structure from small, family-based, territorially aggressive societies in native populations towards huge networks of cooperating nests (unicoloniality) occur in some invasive social insects, for example, most invasive ants and some termites. Unicoloniality is likely to affect disease dynamics in multiple ways. The free exchange of individuals within the population leads to an increased genetic heterogeneity among individuals of a single nest, thereby decreasing disease transmission. However, the multitude of reproductively active queens per colony buffers the effect of individual diseased queens and their offspring, which may result in a higher level of vertical disease transmission in unicolonial societies. Lastly, unicoloniality provides a competitive advantage over native species, allowing them to quickly become the dominant species in the habitat, which in turn selects for parasite adaptation to this common host genotype and thus eventually a high parasite pressure. Overall, invasions by insect societies are characterized by general features applying to all introduced species, as well as idiosyncrasies that emerge from their social lifestyle. It is important to study these effects in concert to be able to develop efficient management and biocontrol strategies. © 2012 British Ecological Society.
We thank Mark Brown, Christopher Pull, Meghan L. Vyleta, Miriam Stock, Barbara Casillas-Perez and three anonymous reviewers for valuable comments on the manuscript and Eva Sixt for ant drawings. Funding was obtained from the German Science Foundation (DFG, by an Individual Research Grant to S.C.) and the European Research Council (ERC, by an ERC-Starting Grant to SC and an Individual Marie Curie EIF fellowship to L.desU.). The authors declare no conflict of interests.
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Ugelvig LV, Cremer S. Effects of social immunity and unicoloniality on host parasite interactions in invasive insect societies. Functional Ecology. 2012;26(6):1300-1312. doi:10.1111/1365-2435.12013
Ugelvig, L. V., & Cremer, S. (2012). Effects of social immunity and unicoloniality on host parasite interactions in invasive insect societies. Functional Ecology, 26(6), 1300–1312. https://doi.org/10.1111/1365-2435.12013
Ugelvig, Line V, and Sylvia Cremer. “Effects of Social Immunity and Unicoloniality on Host Parasite Interactions in Invasive Insect Societies.” Functional Ecology 26, no. 6 (2012): 1300–1312. https://doi.org/10.1111/1365-2435.12013.
L. V. Ugelvig and S. Cremer, “Effects of social immunity and unicoloniality on host parasite interactions in invasive insect societies,” Functional Ecology, vol. 26, no. 6, pp. 1300–1312, 2012.
Ugelvig LV, Cremer S. 2012. Effects of social immunity and unicoloniality on host parasite interactions in invasive insect societies. Functional Ecology. 26(6), 1300–1312.
Ugelvig, Line V., and Sylvia Cremer. “Effects of Social Immunity and Unicoloniality on Host Parasite Interactions in Invasive Insect Societies.” Functional Ecology, vol. 26, no. 6, Wiley-Blackwell, 2012, pp. 1300–12, doi:10.1111/1365-2435.12013.