Being cared for when sick is a benefit of sociality that can reduce disease and improve survival of group members. However, individuals providing care risk contracting infectious diseases themselves. If they contract a low pathogen dose, they may develop low-level infections that do not cause disease but still affect host immunity by either decreasing or increasing the host’s vulnerability to subsequent infections. Caring for contagious individuals can thus significantly alter the future disease susceptibility of caregivers. Using ants and their fungal pathogens as a model system, we tested if the altered disease susceptibility of experienced caregivers, in turn, affects their expression of sanitary care behavior. We found that low-level infections contracted during sanitary care had protective or neutral effects on secondary exposure to the same (homologous) pathogen but consistently caused high mortality on superinfection with a different (heterologous) pathogen. In response to this risk, the ants selectively adjusted the expression of their sanitary care. Specifically, the ants performed less grooming and more antimicrobial disinfection when caring for nestmates contaminated with heterologous pathogens compared with homologous ones. By modulating the components of sanitary care in this way the ants acquired less infectious particles of the heterologous pathogens, resulting in reduced superinfection. The performance of risk-adjusted sanitary care reveals the remarkable capacity of ants to react to changes in their disease susceptibility, according to their own infection history and to flexibly adjust collective care to individual risk.
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Konrad M, Pull C, Metzler S, et al. Ants avoid superinfections by performing risk-adjusted sanitary care. PNAS. 2018;115(11):2782-2787. doi:10.1073/pnas.1713501115
Konrad, M., Pull, C., Metzler, S., Seif, K., Naderlinger, E., Grasse, A. V., & Cremer, S. (2018). Ants avoid superinfections by performing risk-adjusted sanitary care. PNAS. National Academy of Sciences. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1713501115
Konrad, Matthias, Christopher Pull, Sina Metzler, Katharina Seif, Elisabeth Naderlinger, Anna V Grasse, and Sylvia Cremer. “Ants Avoid Superinfections by Performing Risk-Adjusted Sanitary Care.” PNAS. National Academy of Sciences, 2018. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1713501115.
M. Konrad et al., “Ants avoid superinfections by performing risk-adjusted sanitary care,” PNAS, vol. 115, no. 11. National Academy of Sciences, pp. 2782–2787, 2018.
Konrad M, Pull C, Metzler S, Seif K, Naderlinger E, Grasse AV, Cremer S. 2018. Ants avoid superinfections by performing risk-adjusted sanitary care. PNAS. 115(11), 2782–2787.
Konrad, Matthias, et al. “Ants Avoid Superinfections by Performing Risk-Adjusted Sanitary Care.” PNAS, vol. 115, no. 11, National Academy of Sciences, 2018, pp. 2782–87, doi:10.1073/pnas.1713501115.
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