Still a host of hosts for Wolbachia: analysis of recent data suggests that 40% of terrestrial arthropod species are infected

PLoS One. 2012;7(6):e38544. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0038544. Epub 2012 Jun 7.


Wolbachia are intracellular bacteria that manipulate the reproduction of their arthropod hosts in remarkable ways. They are predominantly transmitted vertically from mother to offspring but also occasionally horizontally between species. In doing so, they infect a huge range of arthropod species worldwide. Recently, a statistical analysis estimated the infection frequency of Wolbachia among arthropod hosts to be 66%. At the same time, the authors of this analysis highlighted some weaknesses of the underlying data and concluded that in order to improve the estimate, a larger number of individuals per species should be assayed and species be chosen more randomly. Here we apply the statistical approach to a more appropriate data set from a recent survey that tested both a broad range of species and a sufficient number of individuals per species. Indeed, we find a substantially different infection frequency: We now estimate the proportion of Wolbachia-infected species to be around 40% which is lower than the previous estimate but still points to a surprisingly high number of arthropods harboring the bacteria. Notwithstanding this difference, we confirm the previous result that, within a given species, typically most or only a few individuals are infected. Moreover, we extend our analysis to include several reproductive parasites other than Wolbachia that were also screened for in the aforementioned empirical survey. For these symbionts we find a large variation in estimated infection frequencies and corroborate the finding that Wolbachia are the most abundant endosymbionts among arthropod species.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Animals
  • Arthropods / classification
  • Arthropods / microbiology*
  • Host Specificity*
  • Models, Statistical
  • Species Specificity
  • Wolbachia / physiology*