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1.  Antimicrobial strength increases with group size: implications for social evolution 
Biology Letters  2010;7(2):249-252.
We hypothesize that aggregations of animals are likely to attract pathogenic micro-organisms and that this is especially the case for semisocial and eusocial insects where selection ultimately led to group sizes in the thousands or even millions, attracting the epithet ‘superorganism’. Here, we analyse antimicrobial strength, per individual, in eight thrips species (Insecta: Thysanoptera) that present increasing innate group sizes and show that species with the largest group size (100–700) had the strongest antimicrobials, those with smaller groups (10–80) had lower antimicrobial activity, while solitary species showed none. Species with large innate group sizes showed strong antimicrobial activity while the semisocial species showed no activity until group size increased sufficiently to make activity detectable. The eusocial species behaved in a similar way, with detectable activity appearing once group size exceeded 120. These analyses show that antimicrobial strength is determined by innate group size. This suggests that the evolution of sociality that, by definition, increases group size, may have had particular requirements for defences against microbial pathogens. Thus, increase in group size, accompanied by increased antibiotic strength, may have been a critical factor determining the ‘point of no return’, early in the evolution of social insects, beyond which the evolution of social anatomical and morphological traits was irreversible. Our data suggest that traits that increase group size in general are accompanied by increased antimicrobial strength and that this was critical for transitions from solitary to social and eusocial organization.
PMCID: PMC3061164  PMID: 20880858
antimicrobial; evolution; sociality; thrips
2.  Antimicrobial defences increase with sociality in bees 
Biology Letters  2007;3(4):422-424.
Evidence for the antiquity and importance of microbial pathogens as selective agents is found in the proliferation of antimicrobial defences throughout the animal kingdom. Social insects, typified by crowding and often by low genetic variation, have high probabilities of disease transmission and eusocial Hymenoptera may be particularly vulnerable because of haplodiploidy. Mechanisms they employ to reduce the risk of disease include antimicrobial secretions which are particularly important primary barriers to infection. However, until now, whether or not there is selection for stronger antimicrobial secretions when the risk of disease increases because of sociality has not been tested. Here, we present evidence that the production of progressively stronger antimicrobial compounds was critical to the evolution of sociality in bees. We found that increases in group size and genetic relatedness were strongly correlated with increasing antimicrobial strength. The antimicrobials of even the most primitive semi-social species were an order of magnitude stronger that those of solitary species, suggesting a point of no return, beyond which disease control was essential. Our results suggest that selection by microbial pathogens was critical to the evolution of sociality and required the production of strong, front-line antimicrobial defences.
PMCID: PMC2390670  PMID: 17504731
bee; antimicrobials; disease; relatedness; sociality
3.  Isolation and genetic diversity of endangered grey nurse shark (Carcharias taurus) populations 
Biology Letters  2006;2(2):308-311.
Anthropogenic impacts are believed to be the primary threats to the eastern Australian population of grey nurse sharks (Carcharias taurus), which is listed as critically endangered, and the most threatened population globally. Analyses of 235 polymorphic amplified fragment length polymorphisms (AFLP) loci and 700 base pairs of mitochondrial DNA control region provide the first account of genetic variation and geographical partitioning (east and west coasts of Australia, South Africa) in C. taurus. Assignment tests, analysis of relatedness and Fst values all indicate that the Australian populations are isolated from South Africa, with negligible migration between the east and west Australian coasts. There are significant differences in levels of genetic variation among regions. Australian C. taurus, particularly the eastern population, has significantly less AFLP variation than the other sampling localities. Further, the eastern Australian sharks possess only a single mitochondrial haplotype, also suggesting a small number of founding individuals. Therefore, historical, rather than anthropogenic processes most likely account for their depauperate genetic variation. These findings have implications for the viability of the eastern Australian population of grey nurse sharks.
PMCID: PMC1618890  PMID: 17148390
Carcharias taurus; low genetic variation; migration

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