Studies of Laboulbeniales (Fungi, Ascomycota) on Myrmica ants (II): variation of infection by Rickia wasmannii over habitats and time

In: Animal Biology

One group of important insect parasites are the Laboulbeniales (Ascomycota), microscopic fungi that live attached to the exterior of their hosts, mainly beetles, but also mites, millipedes, earwigs, and ants. Rickia wasmannii is a common fungus in Europe and is limited to the ant genus Myrmica (Hymenoptera, Formicidae). This paper presents patterns of R. wasmannii infection in the Netherlands from three host species collected in three series of pitfall traps: Myrmica ruginodis, M. sabuleti, and M. scabrinodis. The infection rate of especially M. sabuleti was so high, that it allowed analyses of infection patterns over time and habitats. We found that only workers were infected, mostly the older ones with a hard cuticle. Gynes are probably never infected. This is supported with data from a nature restoration site: in this young area R. wassmannii is not abundant in contrast to close-by sites, so there probably is a build-up of infection by Rickia over time through worker contact. Taken over three periods throughout the year (spring, summer, autumn), parasite prevalence declined significantly in M. sabuleti, with a non-significant declining trend in M. scabrinodis. Increased allogrooming behavior in the nest in the winter may be the main contributing factor for this. New, largely uninfected cohorts of workers lead to decreased infection rate during the reproduction season. Finally, Rickia wasmannii occurs throughout a wide variety of habitats, from moist and cool to dry and warm.

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