Spiroplasma bacteria enhance survival of Drosophila hydei attacked by the parasitic wasp Leptopilina heterotoma.PLoS One. 2010 Aug 13; 5(8):e12149.Plos
Maternally-transmitted associations between endosymbiotic bacteria and insects are ubiquitous. While many of these associations are obligate and mutually beneficial, many are facultative, and the mechanism(s) by which these microbes persist in their host lineages remain elusive. Inherited microbes with imperfect transmission are expected to be lost from their host lineages if no other mechanisms increase their persistence (i.e., host reproductive manipulation and/or fitness benefits to host). Indeed numerous facultative heritable endosymbionts are reproductive manipulators. Nevertheless, many do not manipulate reproduction, so they are expected to confer fitness benefits to their hosts, as has been shown in several studies that report defense against natural enemies, tolerance to environmental stress, and increased fecundity.
We examined whether larval to adult survival of Drosophila hydei against attack by a common parasitoid wasp (Leptopilina heterotoma), differed between uninfected flies and flies that were artificially infected with Spiroplasma, a heritable endosymbiont of Drosophila hydei that does not appear to manipulate host reproduction. Survival was significantly greater for Spiroplasma-infected flies, and the effect of Spiroplasma infection was most evident during the host's pupal stage. We examined whether or not increased survival of Spiroplasma-infected flies was due to reduced oviposition by the wasp (i.e., pre-oviposition mechanism). The number of wasp eggs per fly larva did not differ significantly between Spiroplasma-free and Spiroplasma-infected fly larvae, suggesting that differential fly survival is due to a post-oviposition mechanism.
Our results suggest that Spiroplasma confers protection to D. hydei against wasp parasitism. This is to our knowledge the first report of a potential defensive mutualism in the genus Spiroplasma. Whether it explains the persistence and high abundance of this strain in natural populations of D. hydei, as well as the widespread distribution of heritable Spiroplasma in Drosophila and other arthropods, remains to be investigated.