Wolbachia infection frequencies in insects: evidence of a global equilibrium?

John H. Werren , Donald M. Windsor

Abstract

Wolbachia are a group of cytoplasmically inherited bacteria that cause reproduction alterations in arthropods, including parthenogenesis, reproductive incompatibility, feminization of genetic males and male killing. Previous general surveys of insects in Panama and Britain found Wolbachia to be common, occurring in 16–22% of species. Here, using similar polymerase chain reaction methods, we report that 19.3% of a sample of temperate North American insects are infected with Wolbachia, a frequency strikingly similar to frequencies found in two other studies in widely separated locales. The results may indicate a widespread equilibrium of Wolbachia infection frequencies in insects whose maintenance remains to be explained. Alternatively, Wolbachia may be increasing in global insect communities. Within each of the three geographic regions surveyed, Hymenoptera are more frequently infected with A group Wolbachia and Lepidoptera more frequently infected with B group Wolbachia.