- Lab Genome Dynamics, Dept Cell & Developmental Biology, Medical University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria
- Genetic conflicts, Hybridization / Introgression, Other, Speciation
Wolbachia and host intrinsic reproductive barriers contribute additively to post-mating isolation in spider mites
Speciation in spider mites: disentangling the roles of Wolbachia-induced vs. nuclear mating incompatibilities
Cytoplasmic incompatibility (CI) is a mating incompatibility that is induced by maternally inherited endosymbionts in many arthropods. These endosymbionts include, most famously, the alpha-proteobacterium Wolbachia pipientis (Yen & Barr 1971; Werren et al. 2008) but also the Bacteroidetes bacterium Cardinium hertigii (Zchori-Fein et al. 2001), a gamma-proteobacterium of the genus Rickettsiella (Rosenwald et al. 2020) and another, as yet undescribed alpha-proteobacterium (Takano et al. 2017). CI manifests as embryonic mortality in crosses between infected males and females that are uninfected or infected with a different strain, whereas embryos develop normally in all other crosses. This phenotype may enable the endosymbionts to spread rapidly within their host population. Exploiting this, CI-inducing Wolbachia are being harnessed to control insect-borne diseases (e.g., O'Neill 2018). Much progress elucidating the genetic basis and developmental mechanism of CI has been made in recent years, but many open questions remain (Shropshire et al. 2020).
Immediately following the discovery and early study of CI in mosquitoes, Laven (1959, 1967) proposed that CI could be an important driver of speciation. Indeed, bi-directional CI can strongly reduce gene flow between two populations due to the elimination of F1 embryos, so that CI can act as a trigger for genetic differentiation in the host (Telschow et al. 2002, 2005). This idea has received much attention, and a potential role for CI in incipient speciation has been demonstrated in several species (e.g., Bordenstein et al. 2001; Jaenike et al. 2006). However, we still don’t know how commonly CI actually triggers speciation, rather than being merely a minor player or secondary phenomenon. The problem is that in addition to CI, postzygotic reproductive isolation can also be caused by host-induced, nuclear incompatibilities. Determining the relative contributions of these two causes of isolation is difficult and has rarely been done.
The study by Cruz et al. (2020) addresses this problem head-on, using a study system of Tetranychus urticae spider mites. These cosmopolitan mites are infected with different strains of Wolbachia. They come in two different colour forms (red and green) that can co-occur sympatrically on the same host plant but exhibit various degrees of reproductive isolation. A complicating factor in spider mites is that they are haplodiploid: unfertilised eggs develop into haploid males and are therefore not affected by any postzygotic incompatibilities, whereas fertilised eggs normally develop into diploid females. In haplodiploids, Wolbachia-induced CI can either kill diploid embryos (as in diplodiploid species), or turn them into haploid males. In their study, Cruz et al. used three different populations (one of the green and two of the red form) and employed a full factorial experiment involving all possible combinations of crosses of Wolbachia infected or uninfected males and females. For each cross, they measured F1 embryonic and juvenile mortality as well as sex ratio, and they also measured F1 fertility and F2 viability. Their results showed that there is strong reduction in hybrid female production caused by Wolbachia-induced CI. However, independent of this and through a different mechanism, there is an even stronger reduction in hybrid production caused by host-associated incompatibilities. In combination with the also observed near-complete sterility of F1 hybrid females and full F2 hybrid breakdown (neither of which is caused by Wolbachia), the results indicate essentially complete reproductive isolation between the green and red forms of T. urticae.
Overall, this is an elegant study with an admirably clean and comprehensive experimental design. It demonstrates that Wolbachia can contribute to reproductive isolation between populations, but that host-induced mechanisms of reproductive isolation predominate in these spider mite populations. Further studies in this exiting system would be useful that also investigate the contribution of pre-zygotic isolation mechanisms such as assortative mating, ascertain whether the results can be generalised to other populations, and – most challengingly – establish the order in which the different mechanisms of reproductive isolation evolved.
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