Social Immunity

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Social living poses challenges for individual fitness because of a greater risk of disease transmission in crowded environments. Evolutionary theory predicts that the immune systems of social organisms should be strongly shaped by the risk of social disease transmission. Eusocial species, such as the honey bee, have evolved complex behaviors of social immunity that reduce exposure of individuals to pathogens, predicting relaxed selection on immune systems. However, this apparent simplification of immune systems in eusocial species may be the result of phylogenetic constrains that are not evident when genomes are compared among highly divergent lineages, such as the fruit fly and the honeybee. We are using a combination of immune assays, immune gene expression, genome and microbiome comparisons among social and solitary bee species to understand tradeoffs between physiological and behavioral immunity in species with different levels of social behavior. This project will generate further testable hypotheses about variability of immune phenotypes in different species across the bee phylogeny. Funded by NSF