Facultative bacterial endosymbionts can play an important role in the evolutionary trajectory of their hosts. Aphids (Hemiptera: Aphididae) are infected with a wide variety of facultative endosymbionts that can confer ecologically relevant traits, which in turn may drive microevolutionary processes in a dynamic selective environment. However, relatively little is known about how symbiont diversity is structured in most aphid species. Here, we investigate facultative symbiont species richness and prevalence among worldwide populations of the cowpea aphid, Aphis craccivora Koch. We surveyed 44 populations of A. craccivora, and detected 11 strains of facultative symbiotic bacteria, representing six genera. There were two significant associations between facultative symbiont and aphid food plant: the symbiont Arsenophonus was found at high prevalence in A. craccivora populations collected from Robinia sp. (locust), whereas the symbiont Hamiltonella was almost exclusively found in A. craccivora populations from Medicago sativa (alfalfa). Aphids collected from these two food plants also had divergent mitochondrial haplotypes, potentially indicating the formation of specialized aphid lineages associated with food plant (host-associated differentiation). The role of facultative symbionts in this process remains to be determined. Overall, observed facultative symbiont prevalence in A. craccivora was lower than that of some other well-studied aphids (e.g., Aphis fabae and Acyrthosiphon pisum), possibly as a consequence of A. craccivora's almost purely parthenogenetic life history. Finally, most (70 %) of the surveyed populations were polymorphic for facultative symbiont infection, indicating that even when symbiont prevalence is relatively low, symbiont-associated phenotypic variation may allow population-level evolutionary responses to local selection.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
We gratefully acknowledge A. Dehnel, N. Dutta, A. Maldonado, J. McCord, and J. Rigdon for laboratory assistance, and the many individuals who helped procure aphids for us to screen: G. Angelella, H. Arevelo, H. Barahoei, J. Castillo, M. Forister, K. Giles, R. Giordano, J. Harmon, N. Perez Hidalgo, I. Hoeschle-Zeledon, D. Hogg, C. Hsu, D. Lagos, B. Lavandero, L. Malik, S. Muranaka, S. Murphy, J. Palumbo, O. Petrovic-Obradovic, X. Pons, G. Rondoni, M. Saethre, N. Schellhorn, N. Seuhs, P. Stansly, M. Tamo, Z. Tomanovic, M. Tuda, L. Wu, T. Zaviezo, and E. Zchori-Fein. This study was funded by USDA-AFRI Grant #2009-65104-05983 and the University of Kentucky Department of Entomology. This is publication 13-08-127 of the Kentucky Agricultural Experiment Station.