Susceptibility and behavioral responses of the dampwood termite Zootermopsis angusticollis to the entomopathogenic nematode Steinernema carpocapsae.
Termites exploit microbially rich resources such as decayed wood and soil that are colonized by potentially pathogenic and parasitic fungi, bacteria, viruses, and nematodes. In colonies composed of thousands of individuals, the risk of infection among nestmates is significant, and individual and social behaviour could involve various adaptations to resist disease and parasitism. Here we show that the dampwood termite Zootermopsis angusticollis (Hagen) exhibits a dosage dependent susceptibility to the soil nematode Steinernema carpocapsae (Weiser) (Mexican strain) and that this social insect significantly alters its behaviour in response to this entomopathogenic roundworm. Relative to their baseline behaviour, termites exposed to infective juveniles increased the frequency and duration of allogrooming and vibratory displays as well as two other novel behaviors, abdominal tip-raising and self-scratching. Whereas the first two behaviors likely reflect general adaptations to reduce susceptibility to a variety of pathogens and parasites, the latter behaviors might be specific to nematodes because they have never been observed in Z. angusticollis in any other pathogenic context. Our results support the hypotheses that behavioral responses in termites are important in the control of pathogenic and parasitic microorganisms and that termite susceptibility is socially mediated.