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Group living offers favourable conditions for the spread of infectious diseases, because high population densities and frequent social contacts facilitate pathogen transmission. To mitigate that risk, social animals have evolved a variety of defence mechanisms to prevent the entry and propagation of pathogens within the group, ranging from a raised investment in personal immunity to highly coordinated collective sanitary actions (‘social immunity’). Recent studies have shown that social groups can also adopt organizational features, such as the subdivision into well-separated subgroups, which reduce epidemic risk through transmission bottleneck effects. However, the importance of organizational immunity features in disease risk management by real animal groups is still poorly understood. In our lab, we aim to address this question using an empirical approach centred on experimental manipulations of garden ant colonies (Lasius niger) and automated behavioural tracking.
Our research is organised into the following themes:
1. Quantify the effect of social organization on disease transmission and test key predictions from network epidemiology
2. Evaluate the relative of importance of personal immunity, collective sanitary actions and organizational features under different environmental conditions and at different stages of development
3. Explore the potential role of caste-specific microbiota on individual disease susceptibility.