We use the term social-medication to describe the deliberate consumption or use of plant compounds by social insects that are detrimental to a pathogen or parasite at the colony level, result in increased inclusive fitness to the colony, and have potential costs either at the individual or colony level in the absence of parasite infection. These criteria for social-medication differ from those for self-medication in that inclusive fitness costs and benefits are distinguished from individual costs and benefits. The consumption of pollen and nectar may be considered a form of social immunity if they help fight infection, resulting in a demonstrated increase in colony health and survival. However, the dietary use of pollen and nectar per se is likely not a form of social-medication unless there is a detriment or cost to their consumption in the absence of parasite infection, such as when they contain phytochemicals that are toxic at certain doses. We provide examples among social bees (bumblebees, stingless bees and honey bees) in which the consumption or use of plant compounds have a demonstrated role in parasite defense and health of the colony. We indicate where more work is needed to distinguish between prophylactic and therapeutic effects of these compounds, and whether the effects are observed at the individual or colony level.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
We thank Evan Palmer-Young and Thomas O’Shea-Wheller and one anonymous reviewer for their constructive comments of the manuscript. Research on the effects of propolis on honey bee health was funded to M.S. by NSF IOS-1256992 , and to M.S. and M.S-F. by USDA-NIFA 2018-67013-27532 .
We thank Evan Palmer-Young and Thomas O'Shea-Wheller and one anonymous reviewer for their constructive comments of the manuscript. Research on the effects of propolis on honey bee health was funded to M.S. by NSFIOS-1256992, and to M.S. and M.S-F. by USDA-NIFA2018-67013-27532.