Social effects of host-microbe symbiosis
Abstract: Organisms interact with conspecifics in their lifetime, for courting, competition and/or cooperation. When individuals start living in a structured closely knit groups, where in addition to all these, they practice social care, it is deemed as society, e.g. humans. Such societal living is known to affect an individual’s traits, behavior and fitness. This has been of special interest to many – how are social traits, social behavior and fitness regulated in social organisms. In addition to genetics and abiotic environment, we are beginning to explore the role of microbes in this process.
Symbiotic microbes are naturally occurring and highly prevalent, from insect to human hosts, and are well integrated with their host’s machinery affecting their behavior, physiology, fitness, ecology and evolution. However, their social consequences remain poorly studied. Using ants, an established social system, and Wolbachia, a fitness regulating group of bacteria that naturally infect multiple insect species, we are investigating the contribution and effects of microbes on various phenotypes in a social organism. Initial results, combining in-lab and field systems, have shown skew in sex ratio and a relative increase in reproductive queens in infected colonies compared to uninfected colonies, in-line with Wolbachia's strategy to increase its transmission and prevalence in a population. I will discuss my current strategies, results and future goals, to systematically investigate the social effects of Wolbachia-host association.