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Science. 2011 Apr 8;332(6026):254-6. doi: 10.1126/science.1199410.

Rapid spread of a bacterial symbiont in an invasive whitefly is driven by fitness benefits and female bias.

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Center for Insect Science, The University of Arizona, Post Office Box 210106, Tucson, AZ 85721-0106, USA.


Maternally inherited bacterial symbionts of arthropods are common, yet symbiont invasions of host populations have rarely been observed. Here, we show that Rickettsia sp. nr. bellii swept into a population of an invasive agricultural pest, the sweet potato whitefly, Bemisia tabaci, in just 6 years. Compared with uninfected whiteflies, Rickettsia-infected whiteflies produced more offspring, had higher survival to adulthood, developed faster, and produced a higher proportion of daughters. The symbiont thus functions as both mutualist and reproductive manipulator. The observed increased performance and sex-ratio bias of infected whiteflies are sufficient to explain the spread of Rickettsia across the southwestern United States. Symbiont invasions such as this represent a sudden evolutionary shift for the host, with potentially large impacts on its ecology and invasiveness.

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