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Annu Rev Microbiol. 2015;69:145-66. doi: 10.1146/annurev-micro-092412-155715. Epub 2015 Jul 16.

The Gut Microbiota of Termites: Digesting the Diversity in the Light of Ecology and Evolution.

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Department of Biogeochemistry, Max Planck Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology, 35043 Marburg, Germany; email: ,


Termite guts harbor a dense and diverse microbiota that is essential for symbiotic digestion. The major players in lower termites are unique lineages of cellulolytic flagellates, whereas higher termites harbor only bacteria and archaea. The functions of the mostly uncultivated lineages and their distribution in different diet groups are slowly emerging. Patterns in community structure match changes in the biology of different host groups and reflect the availability of microbial habitats provided by flagellates, wood fibers, and the increasing differentiation of the intestinal tract, which also creates new niches for microbial symbionts. Whereas the intestinal communities in the closely related cockroaches seem to be shaped primarily by the selective forces of microhabitat and functional niche, the social behavior of termites reduces the stochastic element of community assembly, which facilitates coevolution and may ultimately result in cospeciation.


coevolution; cospeciation; insects; lignocellulose; symbionts

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