Primordial enemies

fungal pathogens in thrips societies

Christine Turnbull, Peter D. Wilson, Stephen Hoggard, Michael Gillings, Chris Palmer, Shannon Smith, Doug Beattie, Sam Hussey, Adam Stow, Andrew Beattie*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

4 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Microbial pathogens are ancient selective agents that have driven many aspects of multicellular evolution, including genetic, behavioural, chemical and immune defence systems. It appears that fungi specialised to attack insects were already present in the environments in which social insects first evolved and we hypothesise that if the early stages of social evolution required antifungal defences, then covariance between levels of sociality and antifungal defences might be evident in extant lineages, the defences becoming stronger with group size and increasing social organisation. Thus, we compared the activity of cuticular antifungal compounds in thrips species (Insecta: Thysanoptera) representing a gradient of increasing group size and sociality: solitary, communal, social and eusocial, against the entomopathogen Cordyceps bassiana. Solitary and communal species showed little or no activity. In contrast, the social and eusocial species killed this fungus, suggesting that the evolution of sociality has been accompanied by sharp increases in the effectiveness of antifungal compounds. The antiquity of fungal entomopathogens, demonstrated by fossil finds, coupled with the unequivocal response of thrips colonies to them shown here, suggests two new insights into the evolution of thrips sociality: First, traits that enabled nascent colonies to defend themselves against microbial pathogens should be added to those considered essential for social evolution. Second, limits to the strength of antimicrobials, through resource constraints or self-antibiosis, may have been overcome by increase in the numbers of individuals secreting them, thus driving increases in colony size. If this is the case for social thrips, then we may ask: did antimicrobial traits and microbes such as fungal entomopathogens play an integral part in the evolution of insect sociality in general?.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere49737
Pages (from-to)1-4
Number of pages4
JournalPLoS ONE
Volume7
Issue number11
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 21 Nov 2012

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