Social network plasticity decreases disease transmission in a eusocial insect

Animal social networks are shaped by multiple selection pressures, including the need to ensure efficient communication and functioning while simultaneously limiting disease transmission. Social animals could potentially further reduce epidemic risk by altering their social networks in the presence of pathogens, yet there is currently no evidence for such pathogen-triggered responses. We tested this hypothesis experimentally in the ant Lasius niger using a combination of automated tracking, controlled pathogen exposure, transmission quantification, and temporally explicit simulations. Pathogen exposure induced behavioral changes in both exposed ants and their nestmates, which helped contain the disease by reinforcing key transmission-inhibitory properties of the colony’s contact network. This suggests that social network plasticity in response to pathogens is an effective strategy for mitigating the effects of disease in social groups.


Published in:
Science, 362, 6417, 941-945
Year:
Nov 23 2018
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 Record created 2018-11-27, last modified 2019-05-07


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