Interactions Between the Odorous House Ant (Tapinoma sessile) and RNA Viruses: a Multi-Faceted Approach

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Virginia Tech


The odorous house ant, Tapinoma sessile, is a widespread, common pest in North American residential areas, yet the understanding of how viral pathogens shape its behavior, management, and interactions with other insects remains limited. Over the course of my thesis, I characterized four novel viruses in T. sessile using metatranscriptomic analysis, investigated their infectivity, and explored how colony social organization influences viral infection patterns. Inoculation experiments confirmed active infection in T. sessile colonies, suggesting trophallaxis as a route for horizontal transmission. These viruses were prevalent in urban populations with polygyne, unicolonial traits, indicating a potential association between colony social structure, colony location, and virus presence and diversity. Additionally, common honey bee viruses including Deformed Wing Virus and Kashmir Bee Virus were detected in T. sessile colonies, with higher prevalence near beehives, indicating a route for virus spillover between the species. Furthermore, the impact of viral infection on foraging behavior was assessed, revealing altered activity and diet preferences in infected colonies and highlighting the need for modified control strategies. Finally, I explored virus transmission between T. sessile and associated arthropods and found shared viruses and active replication in arthropods within ant nests, indicating a novel case of virus spillover between ants and myrmecophiles. These findings offer insights into viral pathogen interactions within ant colonies, the influence of social organization on infection dynamics, and the potential for pathogen transmission between ants and associated arthropods and offer a deeper understanding of an important native ant species that may shape future pest management strategies.



odorous house ant, sugar ant, Tapinoma sessile, RNA viruses, myrmecophiles, spillover, foraging, ants, viruses