Locusts are infamous for their ability to aggregate into gregarious migratory swarms that pose a major threat to food security. Aggregation is elicited by an interplay of visual, tactile, and chemical stimuli, but the aggregation pheromone in feces is particularly important. Infection by the microsporidian parasite Paranosema (Nosema) locustae is known to inhibit aggregation of solitary Locusta migratoria manilensis and to induce gregarious locusts to shift back to solitary behavior. Here we suggest that P. locustae achieves this effect by acidifying the hindgut and modulating the locust immune response, which suppresses the growth of the hindgut bacteria that produce aggregation pheromones. This in turn reduces production of the neurotransmitter serotonin that initiates gregarious behavior. Healthy L. migratoria manilensis exposed to olfactory stimuli from parasite-infected locusts also produced significantly less serotonin, reducing gregarization. P. locustae also suppresses biosynthesis of the neurotransmitter dopamine that maintains gregarization. Our findings reveal the mechanisms by which P. locustae reduces production of aggregation pheromone and blocks the initiation and maintainence of gregarious behavior.
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