The importance of microbial facultative endosymbionts to insects is increasingly being recognized, but our understanding of how the fitness effects of infection are distributed across symbiont taxa is limited. In the pea aphid, some of the seven known species of facultative symbionts influence their host's resistance to natural enemies, including parasitoid wasps and a pathogenic fungus. Here we show that protection against this entomopathogen, Pandora neoaphidis, can be conferred by strains of four distantly related symbionts (in the genera Regiella, Rickettsia, Rickettsiella and Spiroplasma). They reduce mortality and also decrease fungal sporulation on dead aphids which may help protect nearby genetically identical insects. Pea aphids thus obtain protection from natural enemies through association with a wider range of microbial associates than has previously been thought. Providing resistance against natural enemies appears to be a particularly common way for facultative endosymbionts to increase in frequency within host populations.
© 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd/CNRS.