Immune priming as a specific response to the current environment

The observation of specific immune responses, specific interactions between host and parasite types, and the rapidly accumulating knowledge on the molecular mechanisms of the insect immune system (Chapters 2, 4, and 5 in this volume; Du Pasquier, 2005; Dong et al, 2006) collectively suggest that the insect immune system is much more sophisticated in its performance than was traditionally believed. Two additional responses are particularly interesting in the context of specific responses. These are immune priming across generations (trans-generational immune priming) and immune priming within an individual. These two phenomena are based on immune priming; that is, the capacity of generating an improved immune response depending on previous experience with the environment (Figure 14.1b and 14.1c).

Table 14.2 Examples from the social insects showing the benefits of group diversity against parasites. This benefit is, at least in part, likely to be a consequence of specific responses.



Method used to achieve variation in diversity

Influence of diversity


Formica Metarizhium anisopliae selysi (fungi)

Apis Paenibacillus larvae mellifera (bacterium)

Natural parasites in the field Ascosphaera apis (fungus)

Acromyrmex Metarizhium anisopliae echinatior (fungus)

Various Various

Bombus Crithidia bombi(protozoan)


Natural parasites in the field

Monogynous versus polygynous colonies Mixing of individuals from separate colonies Artificial insemination with one or 10 males

Serial passage through groups of individuals from one or three patrilines Serial passage through full-sibs, half-sibs, unrelated conspecifics, and congenerics Grouping of individuals from one or three different patrilines Cross-species comparative analysis of colony relatedness Keeping workers with kin or non-kin

Transplantation of brood between colonies

Artificial insemination with sperm of four unrelated males or four brothers

Survival following exposure Survival following exposure Intensity of infection

Variation in disease prevalence Evolution of parasite virulence Probability of parasite extinction Survival following exposure Parasite richness

Parasite prevalence

Parasite prevalence, infection intensity, and species richness

Seeley and Tarpy (2007)

Tarpy and Seeley (2006)

Tarpy (2003) Hughes and Boomsma (2006)

Hughes and Boomsma (2004) Schmid-Hempel and Crozier (1999) Shykoff and Schmid-Hempel (1991) Liersch and Schmid-Hempel (1998)

Baer and Schmid-Hempel (1999)

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