Letter

Nature 441, 872-875 (15 June 2006) | doi:10.1038/nature04698; Received 24 January 2006; Accepted 7 March 2006

Sperm storage induces an immunity cost in ants

Boris Baer1,2,3, Sophie A. O. Armitage1,3 and Jacobus J. Boomsma1

  1. Institute of Biology, Department of Population Biology, Universitetsparken 15, 2100 Copenhagen, Denmark
  2. †Present address: Zoology Building, School of Animal Biology (MO92), The University of Western Australia, 6009 Nedlands, Western Australia, Australia
  3. *These authors contributed equally to this work

Correspondence to: Boris Baer1,2,3 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to B.B. (Email: bcbaer@bi.ku.dk).

Ant queens are among the most long-lived insects known1, 2. They mate early in adult life and maintain millions of viable sperm in their sperm storage organ until they die many years later3, 4. Because they never re-mate, the reproductive success of queens is ultimately sperm-limited, but it is not known what selective forces determine the upper limit to sperm storage. Here we show that sperm storage carries a significant cost of reduced immunity during colony founding. Newly mated queens of the leaf-cutting ant Atta colombica upregulate their immune response shortly after completing their nest burrow, probably as an adaptive response to a greater exposure to pathogens in the absence of grooming workers. However, the immune response nine days after colony founding is negatively correlated with the amount of sperm in the sperm storage organ, indicating that short-term survival is traded off against long-term reproductive success. The immune response was lower when more males contributed to the stored sperm, indicating that there might be an additional cost of mating or storing genetically different ejaculates.

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