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ISME J. 2014 Dec;8(12):2369-79. doi: 10.1038/ismej.2014.68. Epub 2014 Apr 24.

Variation in gut microbial communities and its association with pathogen infection in wild bumble bees (Bombus).

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Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Natural Resources, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.
1] Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA [2] Department of Integrative Biology, University of Texas, Austin, TX, USA.

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  • ISME J. 2014 Dec;8(12):2550-1.


Bacterial gut symbiont communities are critical for the health of many insect species. However, little is known about how microbial communities vary among host species or how they respond to anthropogenic disturbances. Bacterial communities that differ in richness or composition may vary in their ability to provide nutrients or defenses. We used deep sequencing to investigate gut microbiota of three species in the genus Bombus (bumble bees). Bombus are among the most economically and ecologically important non-managed pollinators. Some species have experienced dramatic declines, probably due to pathogens and land-use change. We examined variation within and across bee species and between semi-natural and conventional agricultural habitats. We categorized as 'core bacteria' any operational taxonomic units (OTUs) with closest hits to sequences previously found exclusively or primarily in the guts of honey bees and bumble bees (genera Apis and Bombus). Microbial community composition differed among bee species. Richness, defined as number of bacterial OTUs, was highest for B. bimaculatus and B. impatiens. For B. bimaculatus, this was due to high richness of non-core bacteria. We found little effect of habitat on microbial communities. Richness of non-core bacteria was negatively associated with bacterial abundance in individual bees, possibly due to deeper sampling of non-core bacteria in bees with low populations of core bacteria. Infection by the gut parasite Crithidia was negatively associated with abundance of the core bacterium Gilliamella and positively associated with richness of non-core bacteria. Our results indicate that Bombus species have distinctive gut communities, and community-level variation is associated with pathogen infection.

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