Horizontal transmission of a parasite is influenced by infected host phenotype and density

Parasitology. 2015 Feb;142(2):395-405. doi: 10.1017/S0031182014001243. Epub 2014 Aug 11.


Transmission is a key determinant of parasite fitness, and understanding the dynamics of transmission is fundamental to the ecology and evolution of host-parasite interactions. Successful transmission is often reliant on contact between infected individuals and susceptible hosts. The social insects consist of aggregated groups of genetically similar hosts, making them particularly vulnerable to parasite transmission. Here we investigate how the ratio of infected to susceptible individuals impacts parasite transmission, using the honey bee, Apis mellifera and its microsporidian parasite Nosema ceranae. We used 2 types of infected hosts found simultaneously in colonies; sterile female workers and sexual males. We found a higher ratio of infected to susceptible individuals in groups resulted in a greater proportion of susceptibles becoming infected, but this effect was non-linear and interestingly, the ratio also affected the spore production of infected individuals. The transmission level was much greater in an experiment where the infected individuals were drones than in an experiment where they were workers, suggesting drones may act as intracolonial 'superspreaders'. Understanding the subtleties of transmission and how it is influenced by the phenotype of the infected/susceptible individuals is important for understanding pathogen transmission at population level, and for optimum targeting of parasite control strategies.

Keywords: superspreader.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bees / parasitology*
  • Disease Transmission, Infectious*
  • Female
  • Host-Parasite Interactions
  • Male
  • Nosema / physiology*