Host-specificity of environmentally transmitted Mycoplasma-like isopod symbionts

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SummaryMycoplasms are known as pathogens of economic and medical interest in plants, animals and man. Here, we show a positive correlation between the presence of Mycoplasma-like symbionts in their isopod hosts and survivorship on low-quality food. Most isopods that survived feeding on a cellulose-based low-quality diet for 90 days harboured ‘Candidatus Hepatoplasma’ in their midgut glands, while those that died within 90 days mostly either harboured no or other bacterial symbionts. We detected ‘Candidatus Hepatoplasma’ in all but one of the examined species of terrestrial isopods from different habitats and locations, suggesting an evolutionarily ancient association between terrestrial isopods and their Mycoplasma-like symbionts. Phylogenetic analyses clustered symbionts from different populations of the same isopod species together, and clearly distinguished between symbionts of different isopod species, indicating host-specificity of ‘Candidatus Hepatoplasma’, although a previous study provided evidence for environmental symbiont transmission. Nonetheless, horizontal exchange of symbionts between species may have been possible in evolutionary earlier stages, as suggested by only limited congruency of phylogenetic trees of hosts and symbionts. Another symbiont, ‘Candidatus Hepatincola porcellionum’, was only detected in midgut glands of the most terrestrial tribe of isopods (Crinocheta), suggesting an evolutionarily younger host–symbiont association. This symbiont proved to be negatively correlated with host longevity, even on high-quality food.

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