Heritable Microbial Endosymbionts in Insects: Insights from the Study of a Parasitic Wasp and its Cockroach Host
cockroach host-parasitoid wasp
symbiont transmission dynamics
Committee ChairHunter, Martha S.
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractEndosymbiosis is a pervasive phenomenon that has been a powerful force in insect evolution. In many well studied insect-bacterial associations, the bacteria can serve as reproductive manipulators, nutritional mutualists or defenders of their hosts. Fungi are also frequently associated with insects, and initial estimates suggest that these fungi are hyperdiverse. Saving a handful of examples, however, the functions of these fungi within insect hosts are largely unknown. This dissertation begins with a review that lays the conceptual groundwork for understanding bacterial and fungal endosymbiosis in insects. I make predictions about why one versus the other microbe might serve the insect, given any unique physiological, ecological or evolutionary conditions. I then aim to derive insights about microbial symbiosis by focusing on a particular system, that of brownbanded cockroaches, Supella longipalpa (Blattaria: Blattellidae) and their specialist wasp parasitoids, Comperia merceti (Hymenoptera: Encyrtidae). Here, I identify the symbiotic community of these two insects by using both culture-dependent and independent methods to characterize the vertically transmitted bacterial and fungal associates. Finally, I show that a heritable fungus in C. merceti, long presumed to be a mutualist, is parasitic under laboratory conditions: infected wasps incur fitness costs for housing the fungal symbiont relative to uninfected wasps. Additionally, although the fungus is not horizontally transmitted sexually, it is readily horizontally transmitted from the offspring of infected females to those of uninfected females that are using the same host.