The success of maternally transmitted endosymbiotic bacteria, such as Wolbachia, is directly linked to their host reproduction but in direct conflict with other parasites that kill the host before it reaches reproductive maturity. Therefore, symbionts that have evolved strategies to increase their host’s ability to evade lethal parasites may have high penetrance, while detrimental symbionts would be selected against, leading to lower penetrance or extinction from the host population. In a natural population of the parasitoid wasp Hyposoter horticola in the Åland Islands (Finland), the Wolbachia strain wHho persists at an intermediate prevalence (∼50%). Additionally, there is a negative correlation between the prevalence of Wolbachia and a hyperparasitoid wasp, Mesochorus cf. stigmaticus, in the landscape. Using a manipulative field experiment, we addressed the persistence of Wolbachia at this intermediate level, and tested whether the observed negative correlation could be due to Wolbachia inducing either susceptibility or resistance to parasitism. We show that infection with Wolbachia does not influence the ability of the wasp to parasitize its butterfly host, Melitaea cinxia, but that hyperparasitism of the wasp increases in the presence of wHho. Consequently, the symbiont is detrimental, and in order to persist in the host population, must also have a positive effect on fitness that outweighs the costly burden of susceptibility to widespread parasitism.
The authors declare no competing or financial interests.
A.D. and S.v.N. designed the research. A.D., M.K. and S.v.N. collected the data. A.D. and S.v.N. analyzed the data and wrote the paper.
The project was funded by the Academy of Finland (grant nos 284601 and 250444 to I. Hanski and S.v.N. and grant no. 266021 to A.D.).
- Received March 29, 2016.
- Accepted July 18, 2016.
- © 2016. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd