In many species of social Hymenoptera, totipotency of workers induces potential conflicts over reproduction. However, actual conflicts remain rare despite the existence of a high reproductive skew. One of the current hypotheses assumes that conflicts are costly and thus selected against. We studied the costs of conflicts in 20 colonies of the queenless ant Diacamma sp. “nilgiri” by testing the effects of conflicts on labor and worker immunocompetence, two parameters closely linked to the indirect fitness of workers. In this species, the dominant female is the only mated worker (gamergate) and monopolizes reproduction. We experimentally induced conflicts by splitting each colony into two groups, a control group containing the gamergate and an orphaned group displaying aggressions until a new dominant worker arises. Immunocompetence was assessed by the clearance of Escherichia coli bacteria that we injected into the ants. Time budget analysis revealed a lower rate of labor and especially brood care in orphaned groups, supporting the existence of a cost of conflicts on labor. Fifteen days after splitting, a lower immunocompetence was also found in orphaned groups, which concerned workers involved and not involved in conflicts. We propose that this immunosuppression induced by conflicts could stem from stress and not directly from aggression.
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Vol. 62 • No. 1