Ancient symbiosis confers desiccation resistance to stored grain pest beetles

Mol Ecol. 2018 Apr;27(8):2095-2108. doi: 10.1111/mec.14418. Epub 2017 Nov 29.


Microbial symbionts of insects provide a range of ecological traits to their hosts that are beneficial in the context of biotic interactions. However, little is known about insect symbiont-mediated adaptation to the abiotic environment, for example, temperature and humidity. Here, we report on an ancient clade of intracellular, bacteriome-located Bacteroidetes symbionts that are associated with grain and wood pest beetles of the phylogenetically distant families Silvanidae and Bostrichidae. In the saw-toothed grain beetle Oryzaephilus surinamensis, we demonstrate that the symbionts affect cuticle thickness, melanization and hydrocarbon profile, enhancing desiccation resistance and thereby strongly improving fitness under dry conditions. Together with earlier observations on symbiont contributions to cuticle biosynthesis in weevils, our findings indicate that convergent acquisitions of bacterial mutualists represented key adaptations enabling diverse pest beetle groups to survive and proliferate under the low ambient humidity that characterizes dry grain storage facilities.

Keywords: Bacteroidetes; cuticle; desiccation resistance; grain pest beetles; symbiosis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacteroidetes / genetics*
  • Bacteroidetes / pathogenicity
  • Desiccation
  • Ecology
  • Host Microbial Interactions / genetics*
  • Phylogeny
  • Symbiosis / genetics*
  • Weevils / genetics
  • Weevils / microbiology*
  • Weevils / physiology

Associated data

  • Dryad/10.5061/dryad.80dk1