Immunity of leaf-cutting ants and its role in host-parasitoid relationships
ELIZALDE, LUCIANA; TREANOR, DAVID; PAMMINGER, TOBIAS; HUGHES, WILLIAM O.H.
JOURNAL OF INSECT PHYSIOLOGY
PERGAMON-ELSEVIER SCIENCE LTD
Año: 2019 vol. 116 p. 49 - 56
Parasites are an important selection pressure for all organisms, and host immune responses are key in shaping host-parasite interactions. Host species with strong immune defences may be expected to experience lower parasitism; on the other hand, investment in immune function is costly, so hosts that have evolved to invest more in immune defence may be expected to have been under greater selection pressure from parasites. Disentangling the coevolutionary dynamics requires comparative studies that quantify the immune responses of potential hosts of parasites in a community, but such studies are rare. Here, we studied the immune defences of six leaf-cutting ant species in a community for which their relationships with phorid fly parasitoid species are known. We tested whether the strength of the baseline immune defences of the different ant species correlated positively or negatively with parasitoid load (number and abundance of parasitoid species exploiting the ant species), and host specialization of parasitoid species (the proportion of specialist parasitoids using each host). We measured four immune variables: i)the encapsulation response to a standard challenge, levels of ii)phenoloxidase (PO)and iii)prophenoloxidae (PPO)immune enzymes, and iv)the number of haemocytes. We found that ant species differed in their encapsulation response, PO levels and number of haemocytes, and that there was a positive, not negative, correlation across ant species between the strength of several of the immune variables and parasitoid load, but not for host specialization. This is in keeping with the hypothesis that higher parasitoid load selects for greater investment in immune defences. Our results suggest that immunity may be an important factor accounting for the dynamics of host-parasitoid interactions in this community. Similar community-level studies may be insightful, both for understanding host-parasite community ecology and for applications such as biocontrol.