Diversity and Distribution of Wolbachia in Relation to Geography, Host Plant Affiliation and Life Cycle of a Heterogonic Gall Wasp
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Background: The maternally inherited endosymbiont Wolbachia is widespread in arthropods and nematodes and can play an important role in the ecology and evolution of its host through reproductive manipulation. Here, we survey Wolbachia in Belonocnema treatae, a widely distributed North American cynipid gall forming wasp that exhibits regional host specialization on three species of oaks and alternation of sexually and asexually reproducing generations. We investigated whether patterns of Wolbachia infection and diversity in B. treatae are associated with the insect's geographic distribution, host plant association, life cycle, and mitochondrial evolutionary history.
Results: Screening of 463 individuals from 23 populations including sexual and asexual generations from all three host plants across the southern U.S. showed an average infection rate of 56% with three common Wolbachia strains: wTre1-3 and an additional rare variant wTre4. Phylogenetic analysis based on wsp showed that these strains are unrelated and likely independently inherited. We found no difference in Wolbachia infection frequency among host plant associated populations or between the asexual and sexual generations, or between males and females of the sexual generation. Partially incomplete Wolbachia transmission rates might explain the occurrence of uninfected individuals. A parallel analysis of the mitochondrial cytochrome oxidase I gene in B. treatae showed high mtDNA haplotype diversity in both infected and uninfected populations suggesting an ancestral infection by Wolbachia as well as a clear split between eastern and western B. treatae mtDNA clades with a sequence divergence of > 6%. The strain wTre1 was present almost exclusively in the western clade while wTre2 and wTre3 occur almost exclusively in eastern populations. In contrast, the same strains co-occur as double-infections in Georgia and triple-infections in two populations in central Florida.
Conclusions:. The diversity of Wolbachia across geographically and genetically distinct populations of B. treatae and the co-occurrence of the same strains within three populations highlights the complex infection dynamics in this system. Moreover, the association of distinct Wolbachia strains with mitochondrial haplotypes of its host in populations infected by different Wolbachia strains suggests a potential role of the endosymbiont in reproductive isolation in B. treatae.