Season- and caste-specific variation in RNA viruses in the invasive Argentine ant European supercolony.
The Argentine ant (Linepithema humile, Mayr) is a highly invasive species. Recently, several RNA viruses have been identified in samples from invasive Argentine ant colonies. Using quantitative PCR, we investigated variation in the levels of these viruses in the main European supercolony over the course of a year. We discovered that virus prevalence and amounts of viral RNA were affected by season and caste: ants had more virus types during warm versus cold months, and queens had more virus types and higher virus prevalence than did workers or males. This seasonal variation was largely due to the appearance of positive-strand RNA viruses in the summer and their subsequent disappearance in the winter. The prevalences of positive-strand RNA viruses were positively correlated with worker foraging activity. We hypothesise that during warmer months, ants are more active and more numerous and, as a result, they have more conspecific and heterospecific interactions that promote virus transmission.