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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

The diversity of reproductive parasites among arthropods: Wolbachia do not walk alone

Olivier Duron1*, Didier Bouchon2, Sébastien Boutin2, Lawrence Bellamy1, Liqin Zhou1, Jan Engelstädter13 and Gregory D Hurst4

Author Affiliations

1 University College London, Department of Biology, Stephenson Way, London NW1 2HE, UK

2 Université de Poitiers, Ecologie Evolution Symbiose, UMR CNRS 6556, Avenue du Recteur Pineau, 86022 Poitiers, France

3 Institute of Integrative Biology (IBZ), ETH Zurich, Universitätsstrasse, ETH Zentrum, CHN K12.1, CH-8092 Zurich, Switzerland

4 University of Liverpool, School of Biological Sciences, Crown Street, Liverpool L69 7ZB, UK

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BMC Biology 2008, 6:27  doi:10.1186/1741-7007-6-27

Published: 24 June 2008



Inherited bacteria have come to be recognised as important components of arthropod biology. In addition to mutualistic symbioses, a range of other inherited bacteria are known to act either as reproductive parasites or as secondary symbionts. Whilst the incidence of the α-proteobacterium Wolbachia is relatively well established, the current knowledge of other inherited bacteria is much weaker. Here, we tested 136 arthropod species for a range of inherited bacteria known to demonstrate reproductive parasitism, sampling each species more intensively than in past surveys.


The inclusion of inherited bacteria other than Wolbachia increased the number of infections recorded in our sample from 33 to 57, and the proportion of species infected from 22.8% to 32.4%. Thus, whilst Wolbachia remained the dominant inherited bacterium, it alone was responsible for around half of all inherited infections of the bacteria sampled, with members of the Cardinium, Arsenophonus and Spiroplasma ixodetis clades each occurring in 4% to 7% of all species. The observation that infection was sometimes rare within host populations, and that there was variation in presence of symbionts between populations indicates that our survey will itself underscore incidence.


This extensive survey demonstrates that at least a third of arthropod species are infected by a diverse assemblage of maternally inherited bacteria that are likely to strongly influence their hosts' biology, and indicates an urgent need to establish the nature of the interaction between non-Wolbachia bacteria and their hosts.