Social complexity and nesting habits are factors in the evolution of antimicrobial defences in wasps

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Abstract

Microbial diseases are important selective agents in social insects and one major defense mechanism is the secretion of cuticular antimicrobial compounds. We hypothesized that given differences in group size, social complexity, and nest type the secretions of these antimicrobials will be under different selective pressures. To test this we extracted secretions from nine wasp species of varying social complexity and nesting habits and assayed their antimicrobial compounds against cultures of Staphylococcus aureus. These data were then combined with phylogenetic data to provide an evolutionary context. Social species showed significantly higher (18x) antimicrobial activity than solitary species and species with paper nests showed significantly higher (11x) antimicrobial activity than those which excavated burrows. Mud-nest species showed no antimicrobial activity. Solitary, burrow-provisioning wasps diverged at more basal nodes of the phylogenetic trees, while social wasps diverged from the most recent nodes. These data suggest that antimicrobial defences may have evolved in response to ground-dwelling pathogens but the most important variable leading to increased antimicrobial strength was increase in group size and social complexity.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere21763
Pages (from-to)1-5
Number of pages5
JournalPLoS ONE
Volume6
Issue number7
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2011

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2011. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.

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