When Subterranean Termites Challenge the Rules of Fungal EpizooticsReport as inadecuate

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Over the past 50 years, repeated attempts have been made to develop biological control technologies for use against economically important species of subterranean termites, focusing primarily on the use of the entomopathogenic fungus Metarhizium anisopliae. However, no successful field implementation of biological control has been reported. Most previous work has been conducted under the assumption that environmental conditions within termite nests would favor the growth and dispersion of entomopathogenic agents, resulting in an epizootic. Epizootics rely on the ability of the pathogenic microorganism to self-replicate and disperse among the host population. However, our study shows that due to multilevel disease resistance mechanisms, the incidence of an epizootic within a group of termites is unlikely. By exposing groups of 50 termites in planar arenas containing sand particles treated with a range of densities of an entomopathogenic fungus, we were able to quantify behavioral patterns as a function of the death ratios resulting from the fungal exposure. The inability of the fungal pathogen M. anisopliae to complete its life cycle within a Coptotermes formosanus Isoptera: Rhinotermitidae group was mainly the result of cannibalism and the burial behavior of the nest mates, even when termite mortality reached up to 75%. Because a subterranean termite colony, as a superorganism, can prevent epizootics of M. anisopliae, the traditional concepts of epizootiology may not apply to this social insect when exposed to fungal pathogens, or other pathogen for which termites have evolved behavioral and physiological means of disrupting their life cycle.

Author: Thomas Chouvenc , Nan-Yao Su

Source: http://plos.srce.hr/


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