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Curr Opin Microbiol. 2012 Jun;15(3):255-62. doi: 10.1016/j.mib.2012.02.001. Epub 2012 Feb 28.

Mutualism meltdown in insects: bacteria constrain thermal adaptation.

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Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708, United States.


Predicting whether and how organisms will successfully cope with climate change presents critical questions for biologists and environmental scientists. Models require knowing how organisms interact with their abiotic environment, as well understanding biotic interactions that include a network of symbioses in which all species are embedded. Bacterial symbionts of insects offer valuable models to examine how microbes can facilitate and constrain adaptation to a changing environment. While some symbionts confer plasticity that accelerates adaptation, long-term bacterial mutualists of insects are characterized by tight lifestyle constraints, genome deterioration, and vulnerability to thermal stress. These essential bacterial partners are eliminated at high temperatures, analogous to the loss of zooanthellae during coral bleaching. Recent field-based studies suggest that thermal sensitivity of bacterial mutualists constrains insect responses. In this sense, highly dependent mutualisms may be the Achilles' heel of thermal responses in insects.

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