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Browsing by Subject "multi-trophic interactions"

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  • Rissanen, Jason (2020)
    Ants are among the most successful organisms in the world. They can be found almost anywhere on the planet and due to their high degree of sociality and complex societies they have become some of the most abundant creatures in most terrestrial ecosystems. Although sociality has benefits in the form of more efficient foraging, brood care, reproduction and protection from predators, it has costs too. Ants live in high densities in their nests and have frequent contact between them which can facilitate an efficient transmission of pathogens within the nest. Ants have become highly successful in spite of their potentially high susceptibility to pathogens. They share the same innate immune responses of other arthropods and have unique adaptations for coping with pathogens. In extension to physiological strategies for coping with pathogens, ants engage in behavioural strategies as well. Ants and other eusocial insects can also harness the structure and behaviour of the colony to prevent and cope with pathogen infections through social immunity. Ants can also engage in self-medication behaviour to combat disease. Self-medication is a behavioural strategy where individuals respond to pathogen infections by seeking out and using biologically active compounds to alleviate the effects of pathogens in a way that would be detrimental for uninfected individuals. The behaviour can be either therapeutic of prophylactic depending on when the compounds are used in relation to encountering the pathogen, and it can be extended beyond the self to other kin. While ants have been proven to medicate themselves with reactive oxygen species (ROS) in laboratory conditions, it remains unknown how they do it in the wild. In my thesis, I studied how the ant Lasius platythorax self-medicate in a natural setting by developing a multi-trophic system of ant – pathogen – aphid – plant interactions. In this system, the ants infected with a fungal pathogen (Beauveria bassiana) had the opportunity to forage on the nectar produced by the extrafloral nectaries (EFNs) of a broad bean plant (Vicia faba) infested by vetch aphids (Megoura viciae). Plants that are stressed by aphids react with a systemic production of ROS, which ants are known to use for self-medication, and ROS could therefore be present in the EFN nectar as well, along with other potentially medicinal compounds. The aphids themselves could present the ants with both ROS, if it accumulates in the aphids due to the immune responses of the plant, and protein if eaten. In my thesis I found out that infected ants increase their foraging on EFN nectar during the first three days after infection compared to healthy ants. This immediate response to a pathogen infection shown by the infected ants fits in a self-medication context as well as the infection cycle of the pathogen, making this a strong case for self-medication. The change in foraging by the infected ants did not reflect on the changes in ROS content in the ants, possibly due to a lack of ROS in the nectar, but instead were likely to be caused by self-generation of ROS in the infected ants. The aphids feeding on the plant contained a higher ROS content compared to the ants, but I found no evidence of ants preying on the aphids, possibly due to the M. viciae being unpalatable for the ants or the ants finding medicinal compounds in the EFN nectar. The result of my thesis is a first step in to identifying natural ways for ants to obtain and use medicinal compounds from their environments and opens up new avenues of research in the topic of self-medication. The result also highlights the importance of biodiversity for the conservation efforts for ants and other insects. Insects are facing a drastic decline in both abundance and diversity due to human impact on their environments, including the prevalence in pathogens. By understanding the full extent of the immune strategies that insects use, including self-medication, we can develop more efficient methods of conservation to help them.