Published on Wed Jul 14 2021

The importance of environmentally-acquired bacterial symbionts for the squash bug (Anasa tristis), a significant agricultural pest

Acevedo, T. S., Fricker, G. P., Garcia, J. R., Alcaide, T., Berasategui, A., Stoy, K. S., Gerardo, N. M.

Most insects maintain associations with microbes that shape their ecology and evolution. Such symbioses have important applied implications when the associated insects are pests or vectors of disease. The squash bug, Anasa tristis, is a significant pest of human agriculture in its own right.

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Abstract

Most insects maintain associations with microbes that shape their ecology and evolution. Such symbioses have important applied implications when the associated insects are pests or vectors of disease. The squash bug, Anasa tristis (Coreoidea: Coreidae), is a significant pest of human agriculture in its own right and also causes damage to crops due to its capacity to transmit a bacterial plant pathogen. Here, we demonstrate that complete understanding of these insects requires consideration of their association with bacterial symbionts in the family Burkholderiaceae. Isolation and sequencing of bacteria housed in midgut crypts in these insects indicates that these bacteria are consistent and dominant members of the crypt-associated bacterial communities. These symbionts are closely related to Caballeronia spp. associated other true bugs in the superfamiles Lygaeoidea and Coreoidea. Fitness assays with representative Burkholderiaceae strains indicate that the association can significantly increase survival and decrease development time, though strains do vary in the benefits that they confer to their hosts, with Caballeronia spp. providing the greatest benefit. Experiments designed to assess transmission mode indicate that unlike many other beneficial insect symbionts, the bacteria are not acquired from parents before or after hatching but are instead acquired from the environment after molting to a later development stage. The bacteria do, however, have the capacity to escape adults to be transmitted to later generations, leaving the possibility for a combination of indirect vertical and horizontal transmission.