A meta-analysis of ant social parasitism: Host characteristics of different parasitism types and a test of Emery's rule

Ming H. Huang, Anna Dornhaus

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Scopus citations


1. In ant social parasitism, the process by which parasite-host systems evolved and the types of invasion mechanisms parasites use are being debated. Emery's rule, for example, states that social parasites are the closest relatives to their hosts. The present study uses previously published data to test whether Emery's rule applies equally to all parasitism types (i.e. xenobiosis, temporary, dulosis, and inquilinism). In addition, this study also investigates other links between parasite-host relatedness and host biology, which has implications for understanding the invasion mechanisms used by certain parasites. 2. We find that xenobiotic parasites typically use distantly-related host species that are of at least medium colony size. Temporary parasites often have multiple host species that are very closely related to the parasite and hosts with medium-size colonies. Dulotic parasites frequently have multiple host species that are slightly less related and of any size. Lastly, inquiline parasites tend to have a single, very closely related, host species with medium-size colonies. 3. Parasites tend to be more closely related to host species if they have a single host species or when the host has a large colony size. In contrast, parasites with multiple host species or hosts of small colony size tend to be less related to their hosts. 4. This study is the first to examine trends in ant social parasitism across all known parasite species. Our meta-analysis shows that Emery's rule applies to inquilinism and temporary parasitism, but not to dulosis and xenobiosis. Our results also suggest that both parasitism type and parasite-host relatedness predict the number of hosts and host colony size. It may be that a chemical mimicry mechanism allows invasion of large host colonies, but requires close relatedness of parasite and host, and concentration on a single host species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)589-596
Number of pages8
JournalEcological Entomology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2008


  • Ant social parasitism
  • Colony size
  • Dulosis
  • Emery's rule
  • Inquiline
  • Parasite-host relatedness
  • Temporary parasitism
  • Xenobiosis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Insect Science


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