Diversity and Evolution of Ant Parasite and Host Communities


Just as a disease attacks an organism, social parasitic ants attack a host ant colony. When social parasites infect the host colony, extract resources (host brood and food), and hamper host reproduction, the host suffers survival consequences and the number of colonies in a population declines. The social parasite ants of the genus Megalomyrmex invade a host colony at the early colony-founding stage, then live in the host nest for years. These parasites infiltrate the host colony without being killed through stealth and chemical weaponry (alkaloid-based venom). Both host and parasite colonies produce winged future queens that are capable of long-range dispersal. The young parasite queen faces an extra challenge because to establish her own colony, she must first find a new host colony.

As with any other disease, social parasitism influences the adaptive traits of species. We will determine how genetic diversity is partitioned within and among populations of host and parasite species pairs. This will broaden our understanding of dispersal patterns of the fungus-growing ants and their guest-ant parasites.