Sources of Variation in the Gut Microbial Community of Lycaeides melissa Caterpillars

Sci Rep. 2017 Sep 12;7(1):11335. doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-11781-1.


Microbes can mediate insect-plant interactions and have been implicated in major evolutionary transitions to herbivory. Whether microbes also play a role in more modest host shifts or expansions in herbivorous insects is less clear. Here we evaluate the potential for gut microbial communities to constrain or facilitate host plant use in the Melissa blue butterfly (Lycaeides melissa). We conducted a larval rearing experiment where caterpillars from two populations were fed plant tissue from two hosts. We used 16S rRNA sequencing to quantify the relative effects of sample type (frass versus whole caterpillar), diet (plant species), butterfly population and development (caterpillar age) on the composition and diversity of the caterpillar gut microbial communities, and secondly, to test for a relationship between microbial community and larval performance. Gut microbial communities varied over time (that is, with caterpillar age) and differed between frass and whole caterpillar samples. Diet (host plant) and butterfly population had much more limited effects on microbial communities. We found no evidence that gut microbe community composition was associated with caterpillar weight, and thus, our results provide no support for the hypothesis that variation in microbial community affects performance in L. melissa.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biodiversity
  • Butterflies / microbiology*
  • Environment*
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome*
  • Herbivory
  • Plants