Gut microbes play a crucial role in decomposing lignocellulose to fuel termite societies, with protists in the lower termites and prokaryotes in the higher termites providing these services. However, a single basal subfamily of the higher termites, the Macrotermitinae, also domesticated a plant biomass-degrading fungus (Termitomyces), and how this symbiont acquisition has affected the fungus-growing termite gut microbiota has remained unclear. The objective of our study was to compare the intestinal bacterial communities of five genera (nine species) of fungus-growing termites to establish whether or not an ancestral core microbiota has been maintained and characterizes extant lineages. Using 454-pyrosequencing of the 16S rRNA gene, we show that gut communities have representatives of 26 bacterial phyla and are dominated by Firmicutes, Bacteroidetes, Spirochaetes, Proteobacteria and Synergistetes. A set of 42 genus-level taxa was present in all termite species and accounted for 56-68% of the species-specific reads. Gut communities of termites from the same genus were more similar than distantly related species, suggesting that phylogenetic ancestry matters, possibly in connection with specific termite genus-level ecological niches. Finally, we show that gut communities of fungus-growing termites are similar to cockroaches, both at the bacterial phylum level and in a comparison of the core Macrotermitinae taxa abundances with representative cockroach, lower termite and higher nonfungus-growing termites. These results suggest that the obligate association with Termitomyces has forced the bacterial gut communities of the fungus-growing termites towards a relatively uniform composition with higher similarity to their omnivorous relatives than to more closely related termites.
Keywords: 16S rRNA pyrosequencing; Macrotermitinae; Termitomyces; bacterial community; gut microbiota; symbiosis.
© 2014 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.