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Bacterial diversity and viral discovery in the invasive Argentine ant (Linepithema humile)

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posted on 15.11.2021, 17:37 by Sébastien, Alexandra

Invasive species can lead to major economic and ecological issues. For this reason, biological controls are being developed in order to help with invasive species population management. Pathogenic bacteria and viruses offer good biological control opportunities as both micro-organisms have played a role in natural population declines. However, beneficial bacteria and viruses associated with the targeted invasive species may interfere with biological controls, by protecting their hosts from infections. Previous knowledge on both pathogenic and beneficial bacteria and viruses present in invasive species may then support the development of an active and efficient biological control.  The Argentine ant, Linepithema humile, is a South American invasive ant species that has successfully spread over five continents. The ants were introduced to New Zealand after a complex invasion path, from Argentina their home range to Europe, then to Australia and finally to New Zealand. In their new environments, invasive Argentine ants affect species diversity and can cause agricultural losses. In the absence of any biological controls, the Argentine ant population is controlled by chemical sprays and poison baits. Management of these invasive ants in New Zealand is estimated to cost NZ$ 60 million a year. The Argentine ant population in New Zealand was reported to have unexpectedly declined. It was hypothesised that pathogens were the cause of this population collapse.  In this study, bacteria and viruses present in the invasive ants were investigated using 454 sequencing and Illumina sequencing for future developments of possible biological controls for the Argentine ants, and a better understanding of the observed population decline in New Zealand. Bacterial diversity present in Argentine ants either declined or diminished along the invasion pathway. At the same time, the invasive ants maintained a core of nine bacteria genera, including Lactobacillus and Gluconobacter, two bacterial genera with members known for their beneficial associations with honey bees. The presence of these core bacteria may have participated in the success of Argentine ants in their new environments. In the laboratory, the use of ampicillin and gentamicin antibiotics on the ants increased bacterial diversity present in the ants. Furthermore, ampicillin, kanamycin and spectinomycin antibiotic treatments increased ant survival but did not affect the ant fitness or intra-species aggressiveness. Only spectinomycin treated ants presented a higher level of inter-species aggressiveness. Bacterial diversity may play an important role in the ant health and at length population dynamics.  Finally, Argentine ants are the hosts of two viruses: the Deformed wing virus (DWV) involved in colony collapse disorder in honey bees, and Linepithema humile virus 1 (LHUV-1), a new virus related to DWV. Both viruses actively replicate within the ants, indicating a possible reservoir role of the ants. However, the effects of the viruses on the ants are not yet known. Further viral infection in the laboratory under different stress conditions and / or antibiotic treatment will give an insight in the role played by these viruses in the observed population collapse of Argentine ants in New Zealand. LHUV-1 may offer a possibility in the development of the first biological control for Argentine ants, depending on its specificity and its effects.  This dissertation provides a first insight in the core bacteria as well as potential harmful viruses present in Argentine ants. These bacteria and viruses may play a role in the ant population dynamics. Invasive species may co-introduce harmful pathogens with them, and participate to the spread of local ones. The pathogens may affect both invasive ants and native species population dynamics.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Ecology and Biodiversity

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code


Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Biological Sciences


Lester, Phil; Ritchie, Peter