Immune competence of the invasive hornet Vespa velutina and its native counterpart Vespa crabro: a comparison across caste and sex.
Understanding the major mechanisms that allow an alien species to become invasive is crucial for limiting the impact of such species, and individual immunity seems to be a crucial trait for their large range colonization when introduced to a new area. Indeed, a high resistance to pathogens and parasites could favour the establishment and proliferation of an alien species in a newly colonized region. A striking example of recent successful invasion is represented by the Asian hornet, Vespa velutina nigrithorax, which has invaded Western Europe threatening bees and beekeeping activities. Investigating the biology of this species is fundamental to understand how V. velutina nigrithorax has become invasive in Europe and this knowledge could be crucial for limiting its impact. Here, by performing bacterial challenge bioassays, we compare the immune competence of different castes and sex of a population of the invasive Asian hornet, V. velutina nigrithorax, and of the native European hornet, V. crabro. Our results demonstrate that the two species differ in their immunocompetence with respect to caste: a higher level of immunocompetence was found in the reproductive females of the Asian hornet which were resistant to bacterial challenge when compared to workers and males of both species and to reproductive females of the native European hornet. The high pathogen resistance in reproductive females of the Asian hornet, might therefore represent a key factor contributing to the ecological success and spread of this invader.