Global declines in insects have sparked wide interest among scientists, politicians, and the general public. Loss of insect diversity and abundance is expected to provoke cascading effects on food webs and to jeopardize ecosystem services. Our understanding of the extent and underlying causes of this decline is based on the abundance of single species or taxonomic groups only, rather than changes in insect biomass which is more relevant for ecological functioning. Here, we used a standardized protocol to measure total insect biomass using Malaise traps, deployed over 27 years in 63 nature protection areas in Germany (96 unique location-year combinations) to infer on the status and trend of local entomofauna. Our analysis estimates a seasonal decline of 76%, and mid-summer decline of 82% in flying insect biomass over the 27 years of study. We show that this decline is apparent regardless of habitat type, while changes in weather, land use, and habitat characteristics cannot explain this overall decline. This yet unrecognized loss of insect biomass must be taken into account in evaluating declines in abundance of species depending on insects as a food source, and ecosystem functioning in the European landscape.
Although humans and arthropods have been living and evolving together for all of our history, we know very little about the arthropods we share our homes with apart from major pest groups. Here we surveyed, for the first time, the complete arthropod fauna of the indoor biome in 50 houses (located in and around Raleigh, North Carolina, USA). We discovered high diversity, with a conservative estimate range of 32-211 morphospecies, and 24-128 distinct arthropod families per house. The majority of this indoor diversity (73%) was made up of true flies (Diptera), spiders (Araneae), beetles (Coleoptera), and wasps and kin (Hymenoptera, especially ants: Formicidae). Much of the arthropod diversity within houses did not consist of synanthropic species, but instead included arthropods that were filtered from the surrounding landscape. As such, common pest species were found less frequently than benign species. Some of the most frequently found arthropods in houses, such as gall midges (Cecidomyiidae) and book lice (Liposcelididae), are unfamiliar to the general public despite their ubiquity. These findings present a new understanding of the diversity, prevalence, and distribution of the arthropods in our daily lives. Considering their impact as household pests, disease vectors, generators of allergens, and facilitators of the indoor microbiome, advancing our knowledge of the ecology and evolution of arthropods in homes has major economic and human health implications.
The ant genus Pheidole-for all of its hyperdiversity and global ubiquity-is remarkably conservative with regard to morphological disparity. A striking exception to this constrained morphology is the spinescent morphotype, which has evolved multiple times across distantly related lineages of Indoaustralian Pheidole. The Pheidole cervicornis group contains perhaps the most extraordinary spinescent forms of all Pheidole. Here we present a taxonomic revision of the P. cervicornis group, and use microtomographic scanning technology to investigate the internal anatomy of the thoracic spines. Our findings suggest the pronotal spines of Pheidole majors, are possibly skeletomuscular adaptations for supporting their disproportionately large heads. The ‘head support hypothesis’ is an alternative to the mechanical defense hypothesis most often used to explain spinescence in ants. The P. cervicornis group is known only from New Guinea and is represented by the following four species, including two described here as new: P. barumtaun Donisthorpe, P. drogon sp. nov., P. cervicornis Emery, and P. viserion sp. nov. The group is most readily identified by the minor worker caste, which has extremely long pronotal spines and strongly bifurcating propodeal spines. The major and minor workers of all species are illustrated with specimen photographs, with the exception of the major worker of P. cervicornis, which is not known.
Animals use a variety of escape mechanisms to increase the probability of surviving predatory attacks. Antipredator defenses can be elaborate, making their evolutionary origin unclear. Trap-jaw ants are known for their rapid and powerful predatory mandible strikes, and some species have been observed to direct those strikes at the substrate, thereby launching themselves into the air away from a potential threat. This potential escape mechanism has never been examined in a natural context. We studied the use of mandible-powered jumping in Odontomachus brunneus during their interactions with a common ant predator: pit-building antlions. We observed that while trap-jaw ant workers escaped from antlion pits by running in about half of interactions, in 15% of interactions they escaped by mandible-powered jumping. To test whether escape jumps improved individual survival, we experimentally prevented workers from jumping and measured their escape rate. Workers with unrestrained mandibles escaped from antlion pits significantly more frequently than workers with restrained mandibles. Our results indicate that some trap-jaw ant species can use mandible-powered jumps to escape from common predators. These results also provide a charismatic example of evolutionary co-option, where a trait that evolved for one function (predation) has been co-opted for another (defense).
Optimality theory predicts the maximization of productivity in social insect colonies, but many inactive workers are found in ant colonies. Indeed, the low short-term productivity of ant colonies is often the consequence of high variation among workers in the threshold to respond to task-related stimuli. Why is such an inefficient strategy among colonies maintained by natural selection? Here, we show that inactive workers are necessary for the long-term sustainability of a colony. Our simulation shows that colonies with variable thresholds persist longer than those with invariable thresholds because inactive workers perform the critical function of replacing active workers when they become fatigued. Evidence of the replacement of active workers by inactive workers has been found in ant colonies. Thus, the presence of inactive workers increases the long-term persistence of the colony at the expense of decreasing short-term productivity. Inactive workers may represent a bet-hedging strategy in response to environmental stochasticity.
Insect pheromones offer potential for managing pests of crop plants. Volatility and instability are problems for deployment in agriculture but could be solved by expressing genes for the biosynthesis of pheromones in the crop plants. This has now been achieved by genetically engineering a hexaploid variety of wheat to release (E)-β-farnesene (Eβf), the alarm pheromone for many pest aphids, using a synthetic gene based on a sequence from peppermint with a plastid targeting amino acid sequence, with or without a gene for biosynthesis of the precursor farnesyl diphosphate. Pure Eβf was produced in stably transformed wheat lines with no other detectable phenotype but requiring targeting of the gene produced to the plastid. In laboratory behavioural assays, three species of cereal aphids were repelled and foraging was increased for a parasitic natural enemy. Although these studies show considerable potential for aphid control, field trials employing the single and double constructs showed no reduction in aphids or increase in parasitism. Insect numbers were low and climatic conditions erratic suggesting the need for further trials or a closer imitation, in the plant, of alarm pheromone release.
Based on molecular dating, the origin of insect agriculture is hypothesized to have taken place independently in three clades of fungus-farming insects: the termites, ants or ambrosia beetles during the Paleogene (66-24 Ma). Yet, definitive fossil evidence of fungus-growing behavior has been elusive, with no unequivocal records prior to the late Miocene (7-10 Ma). Here we report fossil evidence of insect agriculture in the form of fossil fungus gardens, preserved within 25 Ma termite nests from southwestern Tanzania. Using these well-dated fossil fungus gardens, we have recalibrated molecular divergence estimates for the origins of termite agriculture to around 31 Ma, lending support to hypotheses suggesting an African Paleogene origin for termite-fungus symbiosis; perhaps coinciding with rift initiation and changes in the African landscape.
Three-dimensional visualization and a deep-learning model reveal complex fungal parasite networks in behaviorally manipulated ants
- Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
- Published over 2 years ago
Some microbes possess the ability to adaptively manipulate host behavior. To better understand how such microbial parasites control animal behavior, we examine the cell-level interactions between the species-specific fungal parasite Ophiocordyceps unilateralis sensu lato and its carpenter ant host (Camponotus castaneus) at a crucial moment in the parasite’s lifecycle: when the manipulated host fixes itself permanently to a substrate by its mandibles. The fungus is known to secrete tissue-specific metabolites and cause changes in host gene expression as well as atrophy in the mandible muscles of its ant host, but it is unknown how the fungus coordinates these effects to manipulate its host’s behavior. In this study, we combine techniques in serial block-face scanning-electron microscopy and deep-learning-based image segmentation algorithms to visualize the distribution, abundance, and interactions of this fungus inside the body of its manipulated host. Fungal cells were found throughout the host body but not in the brain, implying that behavioral control of the animal body by this microbe occurs peripherally. Additionally, fungal cells invaded host muscle fibers and joined together to form networks that encircled the muscles. These networks may represent a collective foraging behavior of this parasite, which may in turn facilitate host manipulation.
Plants respond to herbivory with the emission of induced plant volatiles. These volatiles may attract parasitic wasps (parasitoids) that attack the herbivores. Although in this sense the emission of volatiles has been hypothesized to be beneficial to the plant, it is still debated whether this is also the case under natural conditions because other organisms such as herbivores also respond to the emitted volatiles. One important group of organisms, the enemies of parasitoids, hyperparasitoids, has not been included in this debate because little is known about their foraging behaviour. Here, we address whether hyperparasitoids use herbivore-induced plant volatiles to locate their host. We show that hyperparasitoids find their victims through herbivore-induced plant volatiles emitted in response to attack by caterpillars that in turn had been parasitized by primary parasitoids. Moreover, only one of two species of parasitoids affected herbivore-induced plant volatiles resulting in the attraction of more hyperparasitoids than volatiles from plants damaged by healthy caterpillars. This resulted in higher levels of hyperparasitism of the parasitoid that indirectly gave away its presence through its effect on plant odours induced by its caterpillar host. Here, we provide evidence for a role of compounds in the oral secretion of parasitized caterpillars that induce these changes in plant volatile emission. Our results demonstrate that the effects of herbivore-induced plant volatiles should be placed in a community-wide perspective that includes species in the fourth trophic level to improve our understanding of the ecological functions of volatile release by plants. Furthermore, these findings suggest that the impact of species in the fourth trophic level should also be considered when developing Integrated Pest Management strategies aimed at optimizing the control of insect pests using parasitoids.
Exclusion from a social group is an effective way to avoid parasite transmission. This type of social removal has also been proposed as a form of collective defense, or social immunity, in eusocial insect groups. If parasitic modification of host behavior is widespread in social insects, the underlying physiological and neuronal mechanisms remain to be investigated. We studied this phenomenon in honey bees parasitized by the mite Varroa destructor or microsporidia Nosema ceranae, which make bees leave the hive precociously. We characterized the chemical, behavioral and neurogenomic changes in parasitized bees, and compared the effects of both parasites.