Convergent incidences of Wolbachia infection in fig wasp communities from two continents

Eleanor R. Haine, James M. Cook


Wide surveys suggest that Wolbachia bacteria infect ca. 20% of all insect species, but particular taxonomic or ecological groups may display significantly higher or lower incidences. We studied 61 fig wasp species in Australia and found the highest known incidence (67%) of infection in a targeted study of this nature. A comparable study in Panama reported a similar figure (59%), confirming the exceptionally high incidence of Wolbachia in fig wasps. Importantly, these are two independent estimates of Wolbachia incidence in fig wasp communities, because no host species, or even genera, are shared between localities. The high level of infection may reflect enhanced opportunities for horizontal transmission inside fig fruits. Although incidence was similar in Panama and Australia, the actual strains involved were different and region–specific. Local strains were shared by several host species, although there was often no obvious (direct) ecological link between two hosts with the same infection.