Distinct effects of the nephridial symbiontsVerminephrobacterandCandidatusNephrothrix on reproduction and maturation of its earthworm hostEisenia andrei

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Verminephrobacter, the most common specific symbionts in the nephridia (excretory organs) of lumbricid earthworms, have been shown to improve reproduction of the garden earthworm Aporrectodea tuberculata under nutrient limitation. It is unknown how general this beneficial trait is in the Verminephrobacter-earthworm symbiosis, whether other nephridial symbionts also affect host fitness and what the mechanism of the fitness increase is. Here we report beneficial effects of Verminephrobacter and Candidatus Nephrothrix on life history traits of the compost worm Eisenia andrei, which in addition to these two symbionts also hosts Agromyces-like bacteria in its mixed nephridial community: while growth was identical between control, Verminephrobacter-free and aposymbiotic worms, control worms produced significantly more cocoons and offspring than both Verminephrobacter-free and aposymbiotic worms, confirming the reproductive benefit of Verminephrobacter in a second host with different ecology and feeding behavior. Furthermore, worms with Verminephrobacter and Ca. Nephrothrix, or with only Ca. Nephrothrix present, reached sexual maturity significantly earlier than aposymbiotic worms; this is the first evidence for a beneficial role of Ca. Nephrothrix in earthworms. Riboflavin content in cocoons and whole earthworms was unaffected by the presence or absence of nephridial symbionts, suggesting that nutritional supplementation with this vitamin does not play a major role in this symbiosis.

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