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Journal Article

Angiosperm to Gymnosperm host-plant switch entails shifts in microbiota of the Welwitschia bug, Probergrothius angolensis (Distant, 1902)

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Martinez, A. J., Onchuru, T. O., Ingham, C. S., Sandoval-Calderon, M., Salem, H., Deckert, J., et al. (2019). Angiosperm to Gymnosperm host-plant switch entails shifts in microbiota of the Welwitschia bug, Probergrothius angolensis (Distant, 1902). Molecular Ecology, 28(23), 5172-5187. doi:10.1111/mec.15281.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0007-E2F3-7
The adaptation of herbivorous insects to new host plants is key to their evolutionary success in diverse environments. Many insects are associated with mutualistic gut bacteria that contribute to the host's nutrition and can thereby facilitate dietary switching in polyphagous insects. However, how gut microbial communities differ between populations of the same species that feed on different host plants remains poorly understood. Most species of Pyrrhocoridae (Hemiptera: Heteroptera) are specialist seed-feeders on plants in the family Malvaceae, although populations of one species, Probergrothius angolensis, have switched to the very distantly related Welwitschia mirabilis plant in the Namib Desert. We first compared the development and survival of laboratory populations of Pr. angolensis with two other pyrrhocorids on seeds of Welwitschia and found only Pr. angolensis was capable of successfully completing its development. We then collected Pr. angolensis in Namibia from Malvaceae and Welwitschia host plants, respectively, to assess their bacterial and fungal community profiles using high-throughput amplicon sequencing. Comparison with long-term laboratory-reared insects indicated stable associations of Pr. angolensis with core bacteria (Commensalibacter, Enterococcus, Bartonella and Klebsiella), but not with fungi or yeasts. Phylogenetic analyses of core bacteria revealed relationships to other insect-associated bacteria, but also found new taxa indicating potential host-specialized nutritional roles. Importantly, the microbial community profiles of bugs feeding on Welwitschia versus Malvaceae revealed stark and consistent differences in the relative abundance of core bacterial taxa that correlate with the host-plant switch; we were able to reproduce this result through feeding experiments. Thus, a dynamic gut microbiota may provide a means for insect adaptation to new host plants in new environments when food plants are extremely divergent.