Examining the "evolution of increased competitive ability" hypothesis in response to parasites and pathogens in the invasive paper wasp Polistes dominula.
Successful invaders often become established in new ranges by outcompeting native species. The "evolution of increased competitive ability" hypothesis predicts that invasive species are subjected to less predation and parasitization than sympatric native species, and thus can allocate resources from defence and immunity to growth and fecundity, thereby achieving higher fitness. In this study, we examined whether American invasive Polistes dominula paper wasps have reduced immunocompetence. To explore this scenario, we tested their susceptibility towards parasites and pathogens at both the individual (immune defence) and colony levels, i.e. hygienic behaviour (removal of diseased individuals by nestmates). First, we examined the response to the specific coevolved parasite Xenos vesparum (lost after invasion) in terms of individual host susceptibility and hygienic behaviour. Second, we explored the response against general pathogens by quantifying the bacterial clearance in individual wasps after a challenge with Escherichia coli and hygienic behaviour after a challenge with the fungus Beauveria bassiana. Our results show that American invasive P. dominula have a higher response against X. vesparum at the colony level, but at the individual level their susceptibility is not significantly different from conspecifics of the native range. On the other hand, invasive P. dominula display lower response after a challenge with general pathogens at both the individual and colony levels. While supporting the hypothesis of a reduction of immunocompetence towards general pathogens in invasive species, these findings also suggest that the response against coevolved parasites might follow different evolutionary pathways which are not always easily predictable.