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J Theor Biol. 2002 Apr 21;215(4):427-39.

The role of colony organization on pathogen transmission in social insects.

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  • 1Department of Entomology, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, USA.


Social organisms are especially vulnerable to pathogens due to the homogeneity of the colony, and the close proximity and extensive interactions among its members. However, the social organization of these groups also offers the potential to provide an effective barrier against the transmission of pathogens within the colony. Social insects with their elaborate colony organizations provide an ideal model system to develop and test this hypothesis. While the different elements of colony organization are generally assumed to be products of ergonomic selection, in this paper we address how the same elements could influence the transmission of pathogens. By developing a simple model, we explore how three parameters of colony organization, division of labor, interaction network and colony demography could influence the transmission of pathogens. We find that heterogeneity among individuals in terms of division of labor alone has little effect on the spread of an infection in the colony and the scenario is indistinguishable from one in which all the individuals are homogeneous. However, division of labor, combined with heterogeneity in the interaction network and demographic schedules reduce the spread of an infection.

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