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The distribution of Wolbachia in fig wasps: correlations with host phylogeny, ecology and population structure

D. DeWayne Shoemaker, Carlos A. Machado, Drude Molbo, John H. Werren, Donald M. Windsor, Edward Allen Herre


We surveyed for the presence and identity of Wolbachia in 44 species of chalcid wasps associated with 18 species of Panamanian figs. We used existing detailed knowledge of the population structures of the host wasps, as well as the ecological and evolutionary relationships among them, to explore the relevance of each of these factors to Wolbachia prevalence and mode of transmission. Fifty–nine per cent of these wasp species have Wolbachia infections, the highest proportion reported for any group of insects. Further, neither the presence nor the frequency of Wolbachia within hosts was correlated with the population structure of pollinator hosts. Phylogenetic analyses of wsp sequence data from 70 individuals representing 22 wasp species show that neither the close phylogenetic relationship nor close ecological association among host species is consistently linked to close phylogenetic affinities of the Wolbachia associated with them. Moreover, no genetic variation was detected within any Wolbachia strain from a given host species. Thus, the spread of Wolbachia within host species exceeds the rate of horizontal transmission among species and both exceed the rate of mutation of the wsp gene in Wolbachia. The presence and, in some cases, high frequency of Wolbachia infections within highly inbred species indicate that the Wolbachia either directly increase host fitness or are frequently horizontally transferred within these wasp species. However, the paucity of cospeciation of Wolbachia and their wasp hosts indicates that Wolbachia do not persist within a given host lineage for long time–periods relative to speciation times.

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