The nesting preference of an invasive ant is associated with the cues produced by actinobacteria in soil.
Soil-dwelling animals are at risk of pathogen infection in soils. When choosing nesting sites, animals could reduce this risk by avoiding contact with pathogens, yet there is currently little evidence. We tested this hypothesis using Solenopsis invicta as a model system. Newly mated queens of S. invicta were found to nest preferentially in soil containing more actinobacteria of Streptomyces and Nocardiopsis and to be attracted to two volatiles produced by these bacteria, geosmin and 2-methylisoborneol. Actinobacteria-rich soil was favored by S. invicta and this soil contained fewer putative entomopathogenic fungi than adjacent areas. Queens in such soil benefited from a higher survival rate. In culture, isolated actinobacteria inhibited entomopathogenic fungi, suggested that their presence may reduce the risk of fungal infection. These results indicated a soil-dwelling ant may choose nest sites presenting relatively low pathogen risk by detecting the odors produced by bacteria with anti-fungal properties.