Insect life history and the evolution of bacterial mutualism

Lee M. Henry*, Martin C J Maiden, Julia Ferrari, H. Charles J Godfray

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Bacterial symbiosis has played a fundamental role in the evolution of eukaryotes. However, we still know little about how cooperative relationships with bacteria originate, and why they form in some host species but not others. Facultative symbionts that are beneficial, but not essential, provide unique insights into these processes. We use data from over a hundred aphid species to test if host life history is associated with the presence of facultative symbionts. We find that aphid species that have mutualistic associations with ants that protect them from natural enemies are less likely to carry symbionts that provide similar benefits. We also find one symbiont species occurs more frequently in unrelated aphid species that specialise on certain plant genera. In addition, aphid species that attack multiple plants often carry different symbiont complements. Our findings provide evidence of the ecological conditions that facilitate stable, mutually beneficial relationships between microbes and eukaryotic hosts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)516-525
Number of pages10
JournalEcology Letters
Issue number6
Early online date13 Apr 2015
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2015


  • Comparative biology
  • Ecology
  • Evolution
  • Host
  • Life history
  • Mutualism
  • Phylogenetics
  • Symbiont

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