Rapid spread of the defensive endosymbiont Spiroplasma in Drosophila hydei under high parasitoid wasp pressure.FEMS Microbiol Ecol. 2015 Feb; 91(2):1-11.FM
Maternally transmitted endosymbionts of insects are ubiquitous in nature and play diverse roles in the ecology and evolution of their hosts. To persist in host lineages, many symbionts manipulate host reproduction to their advantage (e.g. cytoplasmic incompatibility and male-killing), or confer fitness benefits to their hosts (e.g. metabolic provisioning and defense against natural enemies). Recent studies suggest that strains of the bacterial genus Spiroplasma protect their host (flies in the genus Drosophila) against parasitoid attack. The Spiroplasma-conferred protection is partial and flies surviving a wasp attack have reduced adult longevity and fecundity. Therefore, it is unclear whether protection against wasps alone can counter Spiroplasma loss by imperfect maternal transmission and any possible fitness costs to harboring Spiroplasma. To address this question, we conducted a population cage study comparing Spiroplasma frequencies over time (host generations) under conditions of high wasp pressure and no wasp pressure. A dramatic increase of Spiroplasma prevalence was observed under high wasp pressure. In contrast, Spiroplasma prevalence in the absence of wasps did not change significantly over time; a pattern consistent with random drift. Thus, the defensive mechanism may contribute to the high prevalence of Spiroplasma in host populations despite imperfect vertical transmission.