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Spiders do not escape reproductive manipulations by Wolbachia

Bram Vanthournout1, Janne Swaegers1 and Frederik Hendrickx12*

Author affiliations

1 Terrestrial Ecology Unit, Department of Biology, Ghent University, Ledeganckstraat 35, 9000 Ghent, Belgium

2 Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, Vautierstraat 29, 1000 Brussels, Belgium

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Citation and License

BMC Evolutionary Biology 2011, 11:15  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-11-15

Published: 14 January 2011



Maternally inherited bacteria that reside obligatorily or facultatively in arthropods can increase their prevalence in the population by altering their hosts' reproduction. Such reproductive manipulations have been reported from the major arthropod groups such as insects (in particular hymenopterans, butterflies, dipterans and beetles), crustaceans (isopods) and mites. Despite the observation that endosymbiont bacteria are frequently encountered in spiders and that the sex ratio of particular spider species is strongly female biased, a direct relationship between bacterial infection and sex ratio variation has not yet been demonstrated for this arthropod order.


Females of the dwarf spider Oedothorax gibbosus exhibit considerable variation in the sex ratio of their clutches and were infected with at least three different endosymbiont bacteria capable of altering host reproduction i.e. Wolbachia, Rickettsia and Cardinium. Breeding experiments show that sex ratio variation in this species is primarily maternally inherited and that removal of the bacteria by antibiotics restores an unbiased sex ratio. Moreover, clutches of females infected with Wolbachia were significantly female biased while uninfected females showed an even sex ratio. As female biased clutches were of significantly smaller size compared to non-distorted clutches, killing of male embryos appears to be the most likely manipulative effect.


This represents to our knowledge the first direct evidence that endosymbiont bacteria, and in particular Wolbachia, might induce sex ratio variation in spiders. These findings are pivotal to further understand the diversity of reproductive phenotypes observed in this arthropod order.