Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Microbial modification of host long-distance dispersal capacity

Sara L Goodacre16*, Oliver Y Martin12, Dries Bonte3, Linda Hutchings4, Chris Woolley4, Kamal Ibrahim5, CF George Thomas4 and Godfrey M Hewitt1

Author Affiliations

1 School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK

2 Experimental Ecology, Institute for Integrative Biology, ETH Zürich, Zürich, Switzerland

3 Department of Biology, Terrestrial Ecology Unit, University of Ghent, Ghent, Belgium

4 Seale-Hayne Campus, University of Plymouth, Newton Abbot, UK

5 Department of Zoology, University of Southern Illinois, Carbondale, IL, USA

6 Current address : Institute of Genetics, University of Nottingham, UK

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BMC Biology 2009, 7:32  doi:10.1186/1741-7007-7-32

Published: 19 June 2009



Dispersal plays a key role in shaping biological and ecological processes such as the distribution of spatially-structured populations or the pace and scale of invasion. Here we have studied the relationship between long-distance dispersal behaviour of a pest-controlling money spider, Erigone atra, and the distribution of maternally acquired endosymbionts within the wider meta-population. This spider persists in heterogeneous environments because of its ability to recolonise areas through active long-distance airborne dispersal using silk as a sail, in a process termed 'ballooning'.


We show that there is spatial heterogeneity in the prevalence of two maternally acquired endosymbiont infections within the wider E. atra meta-population and we demonstrate through several independent approaches a link between the presence of one of these endosymbionts, Rickettsia, and the tendency for long-distance movement.


This novel finding that particular endosymbionts can influence host dispersal is of broad importance given the extremely widespread occurrence of similar bacteria within arthropod communities. A bacterial phenotype that limits dispersal has the potential not only to reduce gene flow and thus contribute to degrees of reproductive isolation within species, but also to influence species distribution and thus overall community composition.