Male killing Spiroplasma protects Drosophila melanogaster against two parasitoid wasps

Heredity (Edinb). 2014 Apr;112(4):399-408. doi: 10.1038/hdy.2013.118. Epub 2013 Nov 27.


Maternally transmitted associations between endosymbiotic bacteria and insects are diverse and widespread in nature. Owing to imperfect vertical transmission, many heritable microbes have evolved compensational mechanisms to enhance their persistence in host lineages, such as manipulating host reproduction and conferring fitness benefits to host. Symbiont-mediated defense against natural enemies of hosts is increasingly recognized as an important mechanism by which endosymbionts enhance host fitness. Members of the genus Spiroplasma associated with distantly related Drosophila hosts are known to engage in either reproductive parasitism (i.e., male killing) or defense against natural enemies (the parasitic wasp Leptopilina heterotoma and a nematode). A male-killing strain of Spiroplasma (strain Melanogaster Sex Ratio Organism (MSRO)) co-occurs with Wolbachia (strain wMel) in certain wild populations of the model organism Drosophila melanogaster. We examined the effects of Spiroplasma MSRO and Wolbachia wMel on Drosophila survival against parasitism by two common wasps, Leptopilina heterotoma and Leptopilina boulardi, that differ in their host ranges and host evasion strategies. The results indicate that Spiroplasma MSRO prevents successful development of both wasps, and confers a small, albeit significant, increase in larva-to-adult survival of flies subjected to wasp attacks. We modeled the conditions under which defense can contribute to Spiroplasma persistence. Wolbachia also confers a weak, but significant, survival advantage to flies attacked by L. heterotoma. The host protective effects exhibited by Spiroplasma and Wolbachia are additive and may provide the conditions for such cotransmitted symbionts to become mutualists. Occurrence of Spiroplasma-mediated protection against distinct parasitoids in divergent Drosophila hosts suggests a general protection mechanism.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Cytoplasm / microbiology
  • Defense Mechanisms
  • Drosophila melanogaster / microbiology*
  • Drosophila melanogaster / parasitology*
  • Female
  • Male
  • Spiroplasma / physiology*
  • Survival Analysis
  • Symbiosis*
  • Wasps / microbiology
  • Wasps / physiology*
  • Wolbachia