Throughout their global range, wild monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) are infected with the protozoan Ophryocystis elektroscirrha (OE). In monarchs, OE infection reduces pupal eclosion, adult lifespan, adult body size and flight ability. Infection of other butterfly hosts with OE is rare or unknown, and the only previously published records of OE infection were on monarch and queen butterflies (D. gilippus). Here we explored the occurrence and specificity of OE and OE-like parasites in four Danaus butterfly species. We surveyed wild D. eresimus (soldier), D. gilippus (queen), D. petilia (lesser wanderer), and D. plexippus (monarch) from five countries to determine the presence of infection. We conducted five cross-infection experiments, on monarchs and queen butterflies and their OE and OE-like parasites, to determine infection probability and the impact of infection on their hosts. Our field survey showed that OE-like parasites were present in D. gilippus, D. petilia, and D. plexippus, but were absent in D. eresimus. Infection probability varied geographically such that D. gilippus and D. plexippus populations in Puerto Rico and Trinidad were not infected or had low prevalence of infection, whereas D. plexippus from S. Florida and Australia had high prevalence. Cross-infection experiments showed evidence for host specificity, in that OE strains from monarchs were more effective at infecting monarchs than queens, and monarchs were less likely to be infected by OE-like strains from queens and lesser wanderers relative to their own natal strains. Our study showed that queens are less susceptible to OE and OE-like infection than monarchs, and that the reduction in adult lifespan following infection is more severe in monarchs than in queens.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics