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Biol Lett. 2007 Dec 22;3(6):678-81.

Are we underestimating the diversity and incidence of insect bacterial symbionts? A case study in ladybird beetles.

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Institute of Evolutionary Biology, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH9 3JT, UK.


Vertically transmitted bacterial symbionts are common in arthropods. However, estimates of their incidence and diversity are based on studies that test for a single bacterial genus and often only include small samples of each host species. Focussing on ladybird beetles, we collected large samples from 21 species and tested them for four different bacterial symbionts. Over half the species were infected, and there were often multiple symbionts in the same population. In most cases, more females than males were infected, suggesting that the symbionts may be sex ratio distorters. Many of these infections would have been missed in previous studies as they only infect a small proportion of the population. Furthermore, 11 out of the 17 symbionts discovered by us were either in the genus Rickettsia or Spiroplasma, which are rarely sampled. Our results suggest that the true incidence and diversity of bacterial symbionts in insects may be far greater than previously thought.

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