Unpredicted impacts of insect endosymbionts on interactions between soil organisms, plants and aphids

Sean C Hackett, Alison J Karley, Alison E Bennett
Proceedings. Biological Sciences 2013 October 7, 280 (1768): 20131275
Ecologically significant symbiotic associations are frequently studied in isolation, but such studies of two-way interactions cannot always predict the responses of organisms in a community setting. To explore this issue, we adopt a community approach to examine the role of plant-microbial and insect-microbial symbioses in modulating a plant-herbivore interaction. Potato plants were grown under glass in controlled conditions and subjected to feeding from the potato aphid Macrosiphum euphorbiae. By comparing plant growth in sterile, uncultivated and cultivated soils and the performance of M. euphorbiae clones with and without the facultative endosymbiont Hamiltonella defensa, we provide evidence for complex indirect interactions between insect- and plant-microbial systems. Plant biomass responded positively to the live soil treatments, on average increasing by 15% relative to sterile soil, while aphid feeding produced shifts (increases in stem biomass and reductions in stolon biomass) in plant resource allocation irrespective of soil treatment. Aphid fecundity also responded to soil treatment with aphids on sterile soil exhibiting higher fecundities than those in the uncultivated treatment. The relative allocation of biomass to roots was reduced in the presence of aphids harbouring H. defensa compared with plants inoculated with H. defensa-free aphids and aphid-free control plants. This study provides evidence for the potential of plant and insect symbionts to shift the dynamics of plant-herbivore interactions.

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