Symbiont infection affects whitefly dynamics in the field

Peter Asiimwe, Suzanne E. Kelly, Martha S. Hunter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Inherited intracellular insect endosymbionts may manipulate host reproduction or provide fitness benefits to their hosts in ways that result in their rapid spread throughout a host population. Fitness benefits in particular can result in the increased pest potential of agriculturally important insects. While benefits due to endosymbiont infection have been well studied in laboratory assays, very little is known about how these benefits translate to insect performance in the field. Laboratory experiments have shown that the maternally inherited bacterial endosymbiont, Rickettsia, increases the fitness of its whitefly host, Bemisia tabaci, through improved fecundity, faster development times and female-biased sex ratios. We conducted field population cage studies to determine whether the benefits conferred by Rickettsia to whiteflies in the laboratory were evident on one of its major hosts, cotton, under field conditions in Arizona, USA. In cages with either Rickettsia-infected or uninfected whiteflies, we observed up to ten-fold higher whitefly egg and nymph densities when whiteflies were Rickettsia-infected compared with uninfected whiteflies throughout the season. We also observed a steep initial increase in Rickettsia frequency in population cages started with either 25% or 50% Rickettsia-infected whiteflies, with the 50% cages approaching fixation within three generations. Using growth rates obtained in the density cages, we calculated and compared an expected trajectory of the frequencies of Rickettsia infection with the observed frequencies. Results showed similar observed and expected frequencies of Rickettsia in the first two generations, followed by a significantly lower than expected frequency in three of four treatment/sample combinations at the end of the season. Taken together, these results confirm the patterns of fecundity and population growth observed in laboratory assays, under field conditions, as well as provides preliminary empirical support for a Rickettsia equilibrium frequency of less than 100%.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)507-515
Number of pages9
JournalBasic and Applied Ecology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Sep 1 2014


  • Bemisia tabaci
  • Competition
  • Cotton
  • Endosymbionts
  • Insect pest
  • Invasive species
  • Rickettsia
  • Whiteflies
  • Wolbachia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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