Mounting scientific evidence indicates that pathogens can regulate insect populations. However, limited dispersal and sensitivity to abiotic conditions often restricts pathogen regulation of host populations. While it is well established that arthropod biological vectors increase pathogen incidence in host populations, few studies have examined whether arthropod mechanical vectors (an organism that transmits pathogens but is not essential to the life cycle of the pathogen) influence host—pathogen dynamics. The importance of mechanical dispersal by ant scavengers, Formica fusca (L.), in a grasshopper—fungal entomopathogen system was investigated. We examined the ability of ants to mechanically disperse and transmit the pathogen, Entomophaga grylli (Fresenius) pathotype 1, to its host, the pest grasshopper Camnula pellucida (Scudder), in a series of laboratory experiments. Fungal spores were dispersed either externally on the ant's body surface or internally through fecal deposition. In addition, a third of all grasshoppers housed with fungal-inoculated ants became infected, indicating that ants can act as mechanical vectors of E. grylli. The effect of ant mechanical vectors on E. grylli incidence was also examined in a field experiment. Ant access to pathogen-exposed experimental grasshopper populations was restricted using organic ant repellent, thereby allowing us to directly compare mechanical and natural transmission. Ants increased grasshopper pathogen mortality by 58%, which led to greater pathogen reductions of grasshopper survival than natural transmission. Taken together, our results indicate that ants enhance E. grylli reduction of grasshopper pest numbers. Therefore, mechanical transmission of pathogens may be an important overlooking component of this grasshopper—fungal pathogen system.
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Vol. 44 • No. 1