The constant pressure posed by parasites has caused species throughout the animal kingdom to evolve suites of mechanisms to resist infection. Individual barriers and physiological defenses are considered the main barriers against parasites in invertebrate species. However, behavioral traits and other non-immunological defenses can also effectively reduce parasite transmission and infection intensity. In social insects, behaviors that reduce colony-level parasite loads are termed “social immunity.” One example of a behavioral defense is resin collection. Honey bees forage for plant-produced resins and incorporate them into their nest architecture. This use of resins can reduce chronic elevation of an individual bee's immune response. Since high activation of individual immunity can impose colony-level fitness costs, collection of resins may benefit both the individual and colony fitness. However the use of resins as a more direct defense against pathogens is unclear. Here we present evidence that honey bee colonies may self-medicate with plant resins in response to a fungal infection. Self-medication is generally defined as an individual responding to infection by ingesting or harvesting non-nutritive compounds or plant materials. Our results show that colonies increase resin foraging rates after a challenge with a fungal parasite ( Ascophaera apis : chalkbrood or CB). Additionally, colonies experimentally enriched with resin had decreased infection intensities of this fungal parasite. If considered self-medication, this is a particularly unique example because it operates at the colony level. Most instances of self-medication involve pharmacophagy, whereby individuals change their diet in response to direct infection with a parasite. In this case with honey bees, resins are not ingested but used within the hive by adult bees exposed to fungal spores. Thus the colony, as the unit of selection, may be responding to infection through self-medication by increasing the number of individuals that forage for resin.
Simone-Finstrom, M., Spivak, M., Marion-Poll, F., & Marion-poll, Frederic. (2012). Increased Resin Collection after Parasite Challenge: A Case of Self-Medication in Honey Bees? (Honey Bees Self-Medicate against Fungal Parasite). PLoS ONE, 7(3), E34601
Simone-Finstrom, Michael D.; Spivak, Marla.
Increased resin collection after parasite challenge: a case of self-medication in honey bees?.
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