Newly emerged bumblebees are highly susceptible to gut parasite infection

Hannah Wolmuth-Gordon, Kazumi Nakabayashi, Mark J F Brown

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One factor that can affect infection susceptibility is host age, the effects of which vary in a range of ways. For example, susceptibility may increase with age, due to senescence or decrease with age as a result of maturation of the immune system. If certain ages are more susceptible to infection, populations with contrasting demographics, such as same-age cohorts versus a mixture of ages, will exhibit differing disease prevalence. We use the bumblebee, Bombus terrestris, and its interaction with the gut trypanosome Crithidia sp. as a model system to investigate age-related susceptibility in a social insect. Crithidia sp. are widespread and prevalent parasites of bumblebees that are spread between colonies via faeces on flowers when foraging, and within colonies via contact with infected bees and contaminated surfaces and resources. In the field, Bombus spp. live for approximately three weeks. Here, we inoculated bumblebees at 0, 7, 14 and 21 days of age and measured their infection after one week. We also measured the level of gene expression of two antimicrobial peptides important in the defence against Crithidia bombi in bumblebees. We found that younger bumblebees are more susceptible to infection by Crithidia sp. than their older siblings. Specifically, individuals inoculated on their first day of emergence had infection intensities seven days later that were four-fold higher than bees inoculated at 21 days of age. In contrast, the gene expression of two AMPs known to protect against the trypanosome, abaecin and defensin, did not significantly vary with age. These results suggest that age does affect susceptibility to Crithidia sp. infection in B. terrestris. The higher susceptibility of callows may have implications for the susceptibility of colonies at different stages of their lifecycle, due to the contrasting age demography of workers in the colony.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)85–96
JournalInsectes Sociaux
Early online date16 Jan 2024
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2024

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