The 2005 ESA Annual Meeting and Exhibition
December 15-18, 2005
Ft. Lauderdale, FL

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Saturday, December 17, 2005 - 9:00 AM

Mate choice and disease avoidance in termites

Rebeca Rosengaus, r.rosengaus@neu.edu1, Colin Brent, colin_brent@ncsu.edu2, and Danielle Bulgier, r.rosengaus@neu.edu1. (1) Northeastern University, Department of Biology, 134 Mugar Life Sciences Building, 360 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA, (2) Arizona State University, School of Life Sciences, PO Box 874501, Tempe, AZ

Termite alates dispersing to new nesting sites are at risk of predation and desiccation, therefore it has been suggested that they will exhibit little or no mate choice. However, given the high possibility of disease transmission between pairing reproductives during the period of colony establishment, there may be strong selective pressure for females to choose males based on the risk of exposure to pathogens or parasites. Using the dampwood termite Zootermopsis angusticollis, we designed a series of experiments to determine whether females prefer healthy males over males infected by the fungus Metarhizium anisopliae, and to establish if there is a cost to the female for pairing with an infected male. Preliminary data provided evidence of mate choice as a function of the male’s health, which we estimated by comparing the average time female dealates spent near healthy or infected males. In addition, females paired with an infected male relative to those paired with a healthy male gained significantly less mass, had fewer active ovarioles, and produced fewer vitellogenic oocytes during the first 30 days of their development, a critical period for successfully establishing a colony. These findings are consistent with theoretical and empirical data across different taxonomic groups that show species with high parental investment should be choosey. Termite reproductives provide their offspring with extensive parental care during the incipient stages of colony foundation. Avoiding sick males would reduce the energetic demands on the female’s immune system, allowing her to dedicate more resources towards colony establishment.

Species 1: Isoptera Termopsidae Zootermopsis angusticollis (dampwood termite)
Species 2: Hyphomycetes Deuteromycotina Metarhizium anisopliae (green muscardine disease)
Keywords: fungal infection, mate choice