The microsporidian pathogen Myrmecomorba nylanderiae: intracolony transmission and impact upon tawny crazy ant (Nylanderia fulva) colonies.
The microsporidian pathogen Myrmecomorba nylanderiae Plowes et al. infects introduced tawny crazy ants (Nylanderia fulva (Mayr)), and constitutes one of the first natural enemies known to attack this invasive ant. We assess how infection is transmitted within colonies and how infection impacts N. fulva colony fragment growth under carbohydrate-deficient and carbohydrate-sufficient dietary conditions. Carbohydrate scarcity is a common source of stress for ant colonies. Infected workers efficiently pass infection to developing larvae but all other potential pathways for within colony transmission are rare or non-viable. For unknown reasons, queens within infected colony fragments are generally uninfected, limiting the role of transovarial transmission in intracolony transmission. In the laboratory, infection by M. nylanderiae primarily impacts the growth of N. fulva colonies by reducing pupal production. Colony growth showed a substantially greater impact under carbohydrate-deficient conditions implying that the effect of the pathogen may depend on seasonally variable carbohydrate availability. In the colony growth assay, worker mortality did not differ with infection status under either nutrient regime. However, in a longer, direct test of survivorship, infected worker survivorship was significantly lower. Recently, some established N. fulva populations with high prevalence of M. nylanderiae infection have declined precipitously, though it is unknown if M. nylanderiae is a causative agent in these declines. The combination of chronic impacts, presence in North America, and potential association with population declines makes M. nylanderiae a promising prospect for the biological control of N. fulva.