Host propagation permits extreme local adaptation in a social parasite of ants

Schonrogge, K.; Gardner, M. G.; Elmes, G. W.; Napper, E. K. V.; Simcox, D. J.; Wardlaw, J. C.; Breen, J.; Barr, B.; Knapp, J. J.; Pickett, J. A.; Thomas, J. A.. 2006 Host propagation permits extreme local adaptation in a social parasite of ants. Ecology Letters, 9 (9). 1032-1040.

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The Red Data Book hoverfly species Microdon mutabilis is an extreme specialist that parasitises ant societies. The flies are locally adapted to a single host, Formica lemani, more intimately than was thought possible in host–parasite systems. Microdon egg survival plummeted in F. lemani colonies > 3 km away from the natal nest, from c. 96% to 0% to < 50%, depending on the hoverfly population. This is reflected in the life-time dispersal of females, measured at < 2 m, resulting in oviposition back into the same ant nests for generation after generation. To counter destabilizing effects on the host, Microdon manipulates the social dynamics of F. lemani by feeding selectively on ant eggs and small larvae, which causes surviving larvae to switch development into queens. Infested colonies rear double the number of new queens, thus propagating the vulnerable local genotype and compensating for damage to the host colonies. The consequences of such extreme host specificity for insect conservation are discussed.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
Programmes: CEH Programmes pre-2009 publications > Biodiversity
UKCEH and CEH Sections/Science Areas: _ Population & Conservation Ecology
ISSN: 1461-023X
Format Availability: Electronic, Print
Additional Keywords: Host-parasite interaction, insect conservation, local adaptation, manipulation of ant reproduction, Microdon mutabilis, reproductive skew, social parasites
NORA Subject Terms: Zoology
Ecology and Environment
Date made live: 02 Jul 2007 15:24 +0 (UTC)

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