Cytotype Affects the Capability of the Whitefly Bemisia tabaci MED Species To Feed and Oviposit on an Unfavorable Host Plant

mBio. 2021 Nov 16;e0073021. doi: 10.1128/mBio.00730-21. Online ahead of print.


The acquisition of nutritional obligate primary endosymbionts (P-symbionts) allowed phloemo-phageous insects to feed on plant sap and thus colonize novel ecological niches. P-symbionts often coexist with facultative secondary endosymbionts (S-symbionts), which may also influence their hosts' niche utilization ability. The whitefly Bemisia tabaci is a highly diversified species complex harboring, in addition to the P-symbiont "Candidatus Portiera aleyrodidarum," seven S-symbionts whose roles remain poorly understood. Here, we compare the phenotypic and metabolic responses of three B. tabaci lines differing in their S-symbiont community, reared on three different host plants, hibiscus, tobacco, or lantana, and address whether and how S-symbionts influence insect capacity to feed and produce offspring on those plants. We first show that hibiscus, tobacco, and lantana differ in their free amino acid composition. Insects' performance, as well as free amino acid profile and symbiotic load, were shown to be plant dependent, suggesting a critical role for the plant nutritional properties. Insect fecundity was significantly lower on lantana, indicating that it is the least favorable plant. Remarkably, insects reared on this plant show a specific amino acid profile and a higher symbiont density compared to the two other plants. In addition, this plant was the only one for which fecundity differences were observed between lines. Using genetically homogeneous hybrids, we demonstrate that cytotype (mitochondria and symbionts), and not genotype, is a major determinant of females' fecundity and amino acid profile on lantana. As cytotypes differ in their S-symbiont community, we propose that these symbionts may mediate their hosts' suitable plant range. IMPORTANCE Microbial symbionts are universal in eukaryotes, and it is now recognized that symbiotic associations represent major evolutionary driving forces. However, the extent to which symbionts contribute to their hosts' ecological adaptation and subsequent diversification is far from being fully elucidated. The whitefly Bemisia tabaci is a sap feeder associated with multiple coinfecting intracellular facultative symbionts. Here, we show that plant species simultaneously affect whiteflies' performance, amino acid profile, and symbiotic density, which could be partially explained by differences in plant nutritional properties. We also demonstrate that, on lantana, the least favorable plant used in our study, whiteflies' performance is determined by their cytotype. We propose that the host plant utilization in B. tabaci is influenced by its facultative symbiont community composition, possibly through its impact on the host dietary requirements. Altogether, our data provide new insights into the impact of intracellular microorganisms on their animal hosts' ecological niche range and diversification.

Keywords: Bemisia tabaci; cytotype; plant utilization; symbionts.