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Heredity (Edinb). 2005 Jul;95(1):41-9.

Wolbachia, sex ratio bias and apparent male killing in the harlequin beetle riding pseudoscorpion.

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Department of Biology and Program in Ecology, Evolution and Conservation Biology, University of Nevada, Reno, NV 89557, USA.


Bacterial endosymbionts that manipulate host reproduction are now known to be widespread in insects and other arthropods. Since they inhabit the cytoplasm and are maternally inherited, these microorganisms can enhance their fitness by biasing host sex ratio in favour of females. At its most extreme, sex ratio manipulation may be achieved by killing male embryos, as occurs in a number of insect species. Here, we provide evidence for the first case of male killing by a tetracycline-sensitive microbe in pseudoscorpions. Using a combination of inheritance studies, antibiotic treatment and molecular assays, we show that a new strain of Wolbachia is associated with extreme female bias in the pseudoscorpion, Cordylochernes scorpioides. In a highly female-biased line, sex ratio distortion was maternally inherited, and occurred in conjunction with a high rate of spontaneous abortion and low reproductive success. Antibiotic treatment cured females of the Wolbachia infection, restored offspring sex ratio to 1:1, and significantly enhanced female reproductive success. The discovery of apparent male-killing in C. scorpioides is of interest because pseudoscorpions are viviparous. Theory predicts that male killing should be favoured, if male death enhances the fitness of infected female siblings. In a live-bearing host, reallocation of maternal resources from dead male embryos to their sisters provides a direct, physiological mechanism through which fitness compensation could favour male killing by cellular endosymbionts. Our results suggest, however, that fitness compensation and the spread of male-killing endosymbionts may be undermined by a high rate of spontaneous abortion in infected females of this viviparous arthropod.

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