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Disease Risk And Immune Strategies In Social Insects

Objective

Group-living has been predicted to have opposing effects on disease risk and immune strategies. First, since repeated contacts between individuals facilitate pathogen transmission, sociality may favour high investment in personal immunity. Alternatively, because social animals can limit disease spread through collective sanitary actions (e.g., mutual grooming) or organisational features (e.g., division of the group’s social network into distinct subsets), sociality may instead favour low investment in personal immunity. The overall goal of this project is to experimentally test these conflicting predictions in ants using advanced data collection and analytical tools. I will first quantify the effect of social organisation on disease transmission using a combination of automated behavioural tracking, social network analysis, and empirical tracking of transmission markers (fluorescent beads). Experimental network manipulations and controlled disease seeding by a robotic ant will allow key predictions from network epidemiology to be tested, with broad implications for disease management strategies. I will then study the effect of colony size on social network structure and disease transmission, and how this in turn affects investment in personal immunity. This will shed light on far-reaching hypotheses about the effect of group size on social organisation ('size-complexity’ hypothesis) and immune investment (‘density-dependent prophylaxis’). Finally, I will explore whether prolonged pathogen pressure induces colonies to reinforce the transmission-inhibiting aspects of their social organisation (e.g., colony fragmentation) or to invest more in personal immunity. This project will represent the first empirical investigation of the role of social organisation in disease risk management, and allow its importance to be compared with other immune strategies. This will constitute a significant advance in our understanding of the complex feedback between sociality and health.

Field of science

  • /social sciences/sociology/governance/crisis management
  • /medical and health sciences/health sciences/epidemiology

Call for proposal

ERC-2018-STG
See other projects for this call

Funding Scheme

ERC-STG - Starting Grant

Host institution

UNIVERSITY OF BRISTOL
Address
Beacon House Queens Road
BS8 1QU Bristol
United Kingdom
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
EU contribution
€ 1 477 282,50

Beneficiaries (2)

UNIVERSITY OF BRISTOL
United Kingdom
EU contribution
€ 1 477 282,50
Address
Beacon House Queens Road
BS8 1QU Bristol
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
UNIVERSITE DE FRIBOURG

Participation ended

Switzerland
EU contribution
€ 22 712,50
Address
Avenue De L Europe 20
1700 Fribourg
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments