Conditional fitness benefits of the Rickettsia bacterial symbiont in an insect pest

Bodil N. Cass, Anna G. Himler, Elizabeth C. Bondy, Jacquelyn E. Bergen, Sierra K. Fung, Suzanne E. Kelly, Martha S. Hunter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Inherited bacterial symbionts are common in arthropods and can have strong effects on the biology of their hosts. These effects are often mediated by host ecology. The Rickettsia symbiont can provide strong fitness benefits to its insect host, Bemisia tabaci, under laboratory and field conditions. However, the frequency of the symbiont is heterogeneous among field collection sites across the USA, suggesting that the benefits of the symbiont are contingent on additional factors. In two whitefly genetic lines collected from the same location, we tested the effect of Rickettsia on whitefly survival after heat shock, on whitefly competitiveness at different temperatures, and on whitefly competitiveness at different starting frequencies of Rickettsia. Rickettsia did not provide protection against heat shock nor affect the competitiveness of whiteflies at different temperatures or starting frequencies. However, there was a strong interaction between Rickettsia infection and whitefly genetic line. Performance measures indicated that Rickettsia was associated with significant female bias in both whitefly genetic lines, but in the second whitefly genetic line it conferred no significant fitness benefits nor conferred any competitive advantage to its host over uninfected whiteflies in population cages. These results help to explain other reports of variation in the phenotype of the symbiosis. Furthermore, they demonstrate the complex nature of these close symbiotic associations and the need to consider these interactions in the context of host population structure.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)169-179
Number of pages11
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016


  • Bemisia tabaci
  • Frequency dependence
  • Genetic line
  • Heat shock
  • Temperature

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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