Wolbachia-infected pharaoh ant colonies have higher egg production, metabolic rate, and worker survival
Suresh, Sachin et al. (2023), Wolbachia-infected pharaoh ant colonies have higher egg production, metabolic rate, and worker survival, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.0zpc8672b
Wolbachia is a widespread endosymbiotic bacteria with diverse phenotypic effects on its insect hosts, ranging from parasitic to mutualistic. Wolbachia also commonly infects social insects, where it faces unique challenges associated with its hosts’ caste-based reproductive division of labor and colony living. Here we dissect the benefits and costs of Wolbachia infection on life-history traits of the invasive pharaoh ant, Monomorium pharaonis. Pharaoh ants are relatively short-lived and show natural variation in Wolbachia infection between colonies, thereby making them an ideal model system for this study. We quantified effects on the lifespan of queen and worker castes, the egg-laying rate of queens across queen lifespan, and the metabolic rates of whole colonies and colony members. Newly-infected queens laid more eggs than uninfected queens but had similar metabolic rates and lifespans. Surprisingly, infected workers outlived uninfected workers. At the colony level, infected colonies were more productive due to increased queen egg-laying rates and worker longevity, and infected colonies had higher metabolic rates during peak colony productivity. While some effects of infection, such as elevated colony-level metabolic rates may be detrimental in more stressful natural conditions, we did not find any costs of infection under relatively benign laboratory conditions. Overall, our study emphasizes the beneficial effects of Wolbachia on colony-level growth and metabolism in this species.
National Science Foundation, Award: IOS-1452520