Send to

Choose Destination
Curr Biol. 2007 Nov 20;17(22):1967-71. Epub 2007 Nov 1.

Social prophylaxis: group interaction promotes collective immunity in ant colonies.

Author information

Biology I, University of Regensburg, D-93040 Regensburg, Germany.


Life in a social group increases the risk of disease transmission. To counteract this threat, social insects have evolved manifold antiparasite defenses, ranging from social exclusion of infected group members to intensive care. It is generally assumed that individuals performing hygienic behaviors risk infecting themselves, suggesting a high direct cost of helping. Our work instead indicates the opposite for garden ants. Social contact with individual workers, which were experimentally exposed to a fungal parasite, provided a clear survival benefit to nontreated, naive group members upon later challenge with the same parasite. This first demonstration of contact immunity in Social Hymenoptera and complementary results from other animal groups and plants suggest its general importance in both antiparasite and antiherbivore defense. In addition to this physiological prophylaxis of adult ants, infection of the brood was prevented in our experiment by behavioral changes of treated and naive workers. Parasite-treated ants stayed away from the brood chamber, whereas their naive nestmates increased brood-care activities. Our findings reveal a direct benefit for individuals to perform hygienic behaviors toward others, and this might explain the widely observed maintenance of social cohesion under parasite attack in insect societies.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free full text

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Elsevier Science
Loading ...
Support Center