Táplálékforrás, szignál, fertőzésgóc – tetemek szerepe egyes hangyafajoknál (Hymenoptera: Formicidae).

Maák István Elek
Táplálékforrás, szignál, fertőzésgóc – tetemek szerepe egyes hangyafajoknál (Hymenoptera: Formicidae).
PhD, University of Szeged.

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Abstract in foreign language

Social life, besides its advantages involves major negative effects, since the intensive contacts among individuals can contribute to the fast spread of pathogens. Further on, social activities and lifestyle can lead to the accumulation of waste materials in high amounts, among which corpses are the most important components. The accumulation of wastes inside a nest can promote the establishment of pathogen microorganisms and fungi, therefore waste management, although essential for the colony's survival, represents risk for the performing workers due to the increased probability of getting infected. In order to counterbalance these negative effects, many social defensive mechanisms have evolved, from which the most effective one is the disposal of corpses on waste piles, i.e. the formation of cemeteries. The corpses can also be used as food source mainly by ant species. The consumption of insect remnants, including those of other ant species, is a widespread phenomenon among ants. Corpse cannibalism is mentioned only in a few works, but it seems that the corpses that appear inside the nest or during a battle can be consumed as food. Some recent researches also highlighted the use of corpses during interspecific conflicts; the appearance of corpses can have negative effects on the behavior of the attacked colony. This behavior let us hypothesize that ants are able to recognize the corpses of different species, and react appropriately. Thus, corpses of different origin may have important signal properties. Aims In our study, we investigated (1) the response of different Formica species and that of the slave-maker Polyergus rufescens towards corpses of different rival and non-rival ant species. Besides examining the reactions towards corpses of different origin, we also analyzed the differences in the reaction towards nestmate corpses in various situations. We tested (2) the use of these corpses as sources of potential food and (3) infestations. Furthermore, we analyzed (4) the division of labor during waste management at different levels. Materials and methods In order to answer our questions, we performed investigations under field and laboratory conditions. Before the start of our work, we placed 10 freeze-killed corpses in front of the main entrances and inside the search arenas, respectively, and we observed the behavioral reactions of resident workers towards the corpses of different rival species, the number of nestmate workers around them, and the transport rate and direction of the different corpses. We used several kinds of corpses, namely corpses of nestmates (F. cinerea, F. sanguinea, P. rufescens and F. polyctena) as control, non-nestmates, submissive F. fusca and in some cases F. rufibarbis, slave-makers and their slaves, and territorial wood-ants (F. polyctena, F. pratensis and F. truncorum). In addition, we compared the reactions of the two slave-maker species (facultative F. sanguinea and obligate Polyergus rufescens) towards each other, their slaves, and corpses of potential slave species under laboratory conditions. The role of corpses as food sources was tested in the case of the nestmate corpses of F. polyctena and the corpses of D. melanogaster. The reactions to these corpses were also tested after submerging them in pure oleic acid, as a response to artificial corpse smell. The amount of nestmate corpses used as food sources were further investigated with the help of painted corpses in the case of starved and satiated colonies, and older nestmates and rival C. vagus corpses. The experimental corpses were measured both before their intake into the nest and after their placement on the cemetery. For the analyses of the possible role of the corpses as infection focars, we tested the reactions towards corpses of nestmate F. polyctena treated with spores and hyphae of the entomopathogenic fungi B. bassiana. The division of labor in waste management activities at caste and individual level was analyzed in the polymorphic ant species C. aethiops, which has workers that can be divided in different size castes, namely minor, media and major. Results On the basis of our findings during the field experiments, F. cinerea responded in a clearly different way to the different corpses of its competitors. The corpses of the slave-maker F. sanguinea and those of the territorial wood ants elicited more aggressive reaction, and they were transported much more quickly than the corpses of the submissive species F. fusca, and those of the non-nestmate and nestmate F. cinerea. The majority of corpses were transported inside the nest. During our laboratory experiments with F. cinerea, we found similar reactions, at least towards the major rivals, but there were differences compared to the field observations, due to the different habitat origin of the study colonies. Similarly, we found intensive reactions towards the corpses of the slave maker F. sanguinea, its slave species, and the territorial F. pratensis. Comparing the reaction of the two slave maker species, we found that in F. sanguinea, the corpses of its rival P. rufescens and its slave species elicited the most intensive reaction, which was followed by the reaction towards the corpses belonging to non-nestmates and their slaves. The corpses of species that our study species do not meet under natural conditions, were transported slowly, and elicited a similar reaction to food consumption. P. rufescens reacted (with small differences) similarly towards the different types of corpses, except the corpses of the non-nestmate P. rufescens and its slave, which elicited an intensive reaction. Interestingly, in the territorial F. polyctena, the corpses of another territorial species (F. truncorum) did not elicit an intensive reaction, which was even less pronounced than the reaction towards the corpses of the submissive F. fusca. The most intensive reaction was elicited by the corpses of F. sanguinea, which was followed by the corpses of non-nestmates. Besides the differentiation between the corpses of nestmates and alien species, F. polyctena were able to differentiate corpses treated with concentrated oleic acid from the untreated ones. Corpses treated with oleic acid elicited a fast burial, and, after a while, they were transported inside the nest. The reaction towards the untreated corpses of D. melanogaster elicited a higher level of aggressivity and a faster transport compared to the reactions towards every other corpse type. The analysis of the nestmate corpse consumption rate showed an elevation in the case of satiated colonies, and this remained high even after the retake of normal feeding after the starvation-stress. We also found a rather elevated consumption rate in the case of old corpses and those of the rival C. vagus. In this latter case, the highest rate of corpses taking apart was observed. The reactions towards the infected corpses of different stages showed an exponential response, and these corpses were clearly differentiated by the workers. Those with spores elicited an intensive grooming, while those with hyphae were surrounded by many aggressive individuals, which cleaned them heavily, and after a while both types were transported inside the nests. The analysis of the division of labor showed that a smaller waste management activity was observed in the case of major workers compared to the other two castes (minor, media). In the case of the minor and media workers, we observed individual differences in the waste management and other activities, as well. 15% of workers (independent from caste) were specialized at least temporarily at waste management, while around 67% were present as generalists. Conclusions On the basis of our results, we can conclude that there is a relationship between the origin of corpses and the intensity of response towards them. The differences in reactions towards corpses belonging to different species depended mostly on the nature of the relationship between the two species under study. It seems that subdominant species have a specific defense mechanism against corpses of slave-maker and territorial wood ants species, which can easily destroy their colonies or decrease their colonial fitness; they get rid of these corpses by a rapid transport and/or a taking apart. In the two slave-maker species we found a difference in the reaction towards the corpses of nestmates, non-nestmates, their slaves and the potential slave species, so we can suppose that the slave maker species can differentiate between these corpses despite the similarities in their CHC-profile. In each studied species, the majority of corpses were transported inside the nest, which may have an important role in the familiarization of the young, naive individuals residing the nest interior with potential rivals. Furthermore, these corpses can be consumed as food. Our results support the hypothesis that the consumption of corpses may be much more common than previously supposed, and it depends on the state of the colony and food supply. The possibility of infection by consumption of an infected corpse seems to be very low in F. polyctena, because a very sophisticated parasite recognition system is present; the workers are able to distinguish the corpses infected with hyphae from those infected with the spores of entomopathogenic fungi. Despite the fact that we did not find a worker caste specialized on waste management in Camponotus aethiops, it seems that the efficiency of this labor is enhanced by the temporary specialization of some foragers, thereby reducing the contamination probability, contributing to colony survival. Ant corpses, besides being waste elements and representing the risk of contamination inside the nest, can have other roles, as well. On the basis of our results it is likely that in Formica species corpses can be part of the within and between species communication, they may represent important food sources, and their presence can signal for a colony the position of rival colonies, possible attacks and even information about the state of the colony itself.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Creators: Maák István Elek
Hungarian title label: Táplálékforrás, szignál, fertőzésgóc – tetemek szerepe egyes hangyafajoknál (Hymenoptera: Formicidae)
Title of the thesis in foreign language: Food sources, signals or infection focuses – the role of corpses in different ant species (Hymenoptera: Formicidae).
Divisions: Doctoral School of Environmental Sciences
Discipline label: Natural Sciences > Environmental Sciences
Defence date label: 2015. November 25.
Item ID: 2768
Identification Number: 3029452
doi: https://doi.org/10.14232/phd.2768
Date Deposited: 2015. Nov. 05. 18:13
Last Modified: 2017. Jun. 13. 14:45
Depository no.: B 5947
URI: http://doktori.bibl.u-szeged.hu/id/eprint/2768
Defence/Citable status: Defended.

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