Bacteriophages in animal microbiomes are harder to characterize than the bacterial or fungal components of the microbiome. We know comparatively little about the temporal and spatial dynamics of bacteriophage communities in animal digestive systems.
The microbial communities in animal digestive systems are critical to host development and health. These assemblages of primarily viruses, bacteria, and fungi stimulate the immune system during development, synthesize important chemical compounds like hormones, aid in digestion, competitively exclude pathogens, etc. The bacteriophages in animal microbiomes are harder to characterize than the bacterial or fungal components of the microbiome and thus we know comparatively little about the temporal and spatial dynamics of bacteriophage communities in animal digestive systems. Recently, the bacteriophages of the honeybee gut were characterized in two European bee populations. Most of the bacteriophages described in these two reports were novel, encoded many metabolic genes in their genomes, and had a community structure that suggests coevolution with their bacterial hosts. To describe the conservation of bacteriophages in bees and begin to understand their role in the bee microbiome, we sequenced the virome of Apis mellifera from Austin, Texas and compared bacteriophage composition between three locations around the world. We found that most bacteriophages from Austin are novel, sharing no sequence similarity to anything in public repositories. However, many bacteriophages are shared among the three bee viromes, indicating specialization of bacteriophages in the bee gut. Our study along with the two previous bee virome studies shows that the bee gut bacteriophage community is simple compared to that of many animals, consisting of several hundred types of bacteriophages that primarily infect four of the dominant bacterial phylotypes in the bee gut.