The risks and impact of infectious diseases are exacerbated in social organisms, which live in dense groups where pathogens can rapidly transmit between hosts. Theory predicts that disease dynamics will depend in large part on a group's composition and social interaction network, but empirical data are scarce.
Our goal is to experimentally investigate the link between the composition of a social group, the structure of its interaction network, and its susceptibility to disease. To do this, we use a novel system, the clonal raider ant Ooceraea biroi, whose unusual biology gives us optimal control over the main aspects of colony composition (size, demographic and genetic composition) that are thought to modulate interaction network structure, and therefore, disease spread. We combine automated behavioral tracking with molecular tools to study how experimental colonies of different composition regulate behavior and immune function at the individual and group levels, and how this in turn affects disease resistance.
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