2014-03-11Zeitschriftenartikel DOI: 10.18452/19111
Bad guys turned nice? A critical assessment of Wolbachia mutualisms in arthropod hosts
Wolbachia are the most abundant bacterial endosymbionts among arthropods. Although maternally inherited, they do not conform to the widespread view that vertical transmission inevitably selects for beneficial symbionts. Instead, Wolbachia are notorious for their reproductive parasitism which, although lowering host fitness, ensures their spread. However, even for reproductive parasites it can pay to enhance host fitness. Indeed, there is a recent upsurge of reports on Wolbachia-associated fitness benefits. Therefore, the question arises how such instances of mutualism are related to the phenotypes of reproductive parasitism. Here, we review the evidence of Wolbachia mutualisms in arthropods, including both facultative and obligate relationships, and critically assess their biological relevance. Although many studies report anti-pathogenic effects of Wolbachia, few actually prove these effects to be relevant to field conditions. We further show that Wolbachia frequently have beneficial and detrimental effects at the same time, and that reproductive manipulations and obligate mutualisms may share common mechanisms. These findings undermine the idea of a clear-cut distinction between Wolbachia mutualism and parasitism. In general, both facultative and obligate mutualisms can have a strong, and sometimes unforeseen, impact on the ecology and evolution of Wolbachia and their arthropod hosts. Acknowledging this mutualistic potential might be the key to a better understanding of some unresolved issues in the study of Wolbachia–host interactions.
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