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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Two ancient bacterial endosymbionts have coevolved with the planthoppers (Insecta: Hemiptera: Fulgoroidea)

Julie M Urban1* and Jason R Cryan2

Author Affiliations

1 Nature Research Center, North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, Raleigh, NC, 27603, USA

2 Research and Collections, North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, Raleigh, NC, 27601, USA

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2012, 12:87  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-12-87

Published: 14 June 2012



Members of the hemipteran suborder Auchenorrhyncha (commonly known as planthoppers, tree- and leafhoppers, spittlebugs, and cicadas) are unusual among insects known to harbor endosymbiotic bacteria in that they are associated with diverse assemblages of bacterial endosymbionts. Early light microscopic surveys of species representing the two major lineages of Auchenorrhyncha (the planthopper superfamily Fulgoroidea; and Cicadomorpha, comprising Membracoidea [tree- and leafhoppers], Cercopoidea [spittlebugs], and Cicadoidea [cicadas]), found that most examined species harbored at least two morphologically distinct bacterial endosymbionts, and some harbored as many as six. Recent investigations using molecular techniques have identified multiple obligate bacterial endosymbionts in Cicadomorpha; however, much less is known about endosymbionts of Fulgoroidea. In this study, we present the initial findings of an ongoing PCR-based survey (sequencing 16S rDNA) of planthopper-associated bacteria to document endosymbionts with a long-term history of codiversification with their fulgoroid hosts.


Results of PCR surveys and phylogenetic analyses of 16S rDNA recovered a monophyletic clade of Betaproteobacteria associated with planthoppers; this clade included Vidania fulgoroideae, a recently described bacterium identified in exemplars of the planthopper family Cixiidae. We surveyed 77 planthopper species representing 18 fulgoroid families, and detected Vidania in 40 species (representing 13 families). Further, we detected the Sulcia endosymbiont (identified as an obligate endosymbiont of Auchenorrhyncha in previous studies) in 30 of the 40 species harboring Vidania. Concordance of the Vidania phylogeny with the phylogeny of the planthopper hosts (reconstructed based on sequence data from five genes generated from the same insect specimens from which the bacterial sequences were obtained) was supported by statistical tests of codiversification. Codiversification tests also supported concordance of the Sulcia phylogeny with the phylogeny of the planthopper hosts, as well as concordance of planthopper-associated Vidania and Sulcia phylogenies.


Our results indicate that the Betaproteobacterium Vidania is an ancient endosymbiont that infected the common ancestor of Fulgoroidea at least 130 million years ago. Comparison of our findings with the early light-microscopic surveys conducted by Müller suggests that Vidania is Müller’s x-symbiont, which he hypothesized to have codiversified with most lineages of planthoppers and with the Sulcia endosymbiont.

Endosymbiont; Planthoppers; Fulgoroidea; Vidania; Sulcia; Codiversification