Costs and benefits of a superinfection of facultative symbionts in aphids

Kerry M. Oliver, Nancy A. Moran, Martha S. Hunter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

212 Scopus citations


Symbiotic associations between animals and inherited micro-organisms are widespread in nature. In many cases, hosts may be superinfected with multiple inherited symbionts. Acyrthosiphon pisum (the pea aphid) may harbour more than one facultative symbiont (called secondary symbionts) in addition to the obligate primary symbiont, Buchnera aphidicola. Previously we demonstrated that, in a controlled genetic background, A. pisum infected with either Serratia symbiotica or Hamiltonella defensa (called R- and T-type in that study) were more resistant to attack by the parasitoid Aphidius ervi. Here, we examined the consequences of A. pisum superinfected with both resistance-conferring symbionts. We found that an A. pisum line co-infected with both S. symbiotica and H. defensa symbionts exhibits even greater resistance to parasitism by A. ervi than either of the singly infected lines. Despite this added benefit to resistance, superinfections of S. symbiotica and H. defensa symbionts appeared rare in our survey of Utah A. pisum symbionts, which is probably attributable to severe fecundity costs. Quantitative polymerase chain reaction estimates indicate that while the density of H. defensa is similar in singly and superinfected hosts, S. symbiotica densities increased dramatically in superinfected hosts. Over-proliferation of symbionts or antagonistic interactions between symbionts may be harmful to the aphid host. Our results indicate that in addition to host-symbiont interactions, interactions among the symbionts themselves probably play a critical role in determining the distributions of symbionts in natural populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1273-1280
Number of pages8
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1591
StatePublished - May 22 2006


  • Endosymbiont
  • Multiple infection
  • Parasitoid
  • Proteobacteria
  • Wolbachia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Environmental Science
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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