Ecology, behavior and evolution of disease resistance in termites

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The nesting and feeding habits of termites create the risk of contact with microbial and invertebrate pathogens and parasites. Additionally, termite life history can result in cyclical decreases in nestmate genetic heterogeneity, increasing susceptibility to parasites, and sociality may elevate transmission rates of infection within colonies. Current research indicates that ecology and group living have selected for disease resistance in both basal and derived termite families, which have evolved diverse immune adaptations deployed sequentially or simultaneously at both individual and societal levels. These include inducible behavioral, biochemical, immunological and social mechanisms of infection control. Mortality from disease can be significant for reproductives, pseudergates and sterile castes, and influences colony fitness through impacts on colony size, demography, polymorphism, division of labor, communication, development, reproduction, colony foundation, and colony and population genetics. The hemimetabolic development, diplodiploid genetics, microbial symbioses and recalcitrant diets of termites present unique opportunities to model the effects of disease on immune function, including the adaptive design of immune molecules, life-history traits and social evolution. Comparisons can also be made between termite and hymenopteran immunocompetences, highlighting phylogenetic and ecological differences. We advocate a multidisciplinary approach to disease resistance in termites, focusing simultaneously on cellular and humoral immunity, antibiotic prophylaxis and social modes of infection control. © Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011.




Rosengaus, R. B., Traniello, J. F. A., & Bulmer, M. S. (2011). Ecology, behavior and evolution of disease resistance in termites. In Biology of Termites: A Modern Synthesis (pp. 165–191). Springer Netherlands.

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