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Chaos of Wolbachia Sequences Inside the Compact Fig Syconia of Ficus benjamina (Ficus: Moraceae)

Public Library of Science
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0048882
  • Research Article
  • Biology
  • Ecology
  • Community Ecology
  • Evolutionary Biology
  • Evolutionary Ecology
  • Microbiology
  • Bacteriology
  • Bacterial Taxonomy
  • Bacterial Evolution
  • Host-Pathogen Interaction
  • Plant Science
  • Plants
  • Trees
  • Zoology
  • Entomology
  • Ecology


Figs and fig wasps form a peculiar closed community in which the Ficus tree provides a compact syconium (inflorescence) habitat for the lives of a complex assemblage of Chalcidoid insects. These diverse fig wasp species have intimate ecological relationships within the closed world of the fig syconia. Previous surveys of Wolbachia, maternally inherited endosymbiotic bacteria that infect vast numbers of arthropod hosts, showed that fig wasps have some of the highest known incidences of Wolbachia amongst all insects. We ask whether the evolutionary patterns of Wolbachia sequences in this closed syconium community are different from those in the outside world. In the present study, we sampled all 17 fig wasp species living on Ficus benjamina, covering 4 families, 6 subfamilies, and 8 genera of wasps. We made a thorough survey of Wolbachia infection patterns and studied evolutionary patterns in wsp (Wolbachia Surface Protein) sequences. We find evidence for high infection incidences, frequent recombination between Wolbachia strains, and considerable horizontal transfer, suggesting rapid evolution of Wolbachia sequences within the syconium community. Though the fig wasps have relatively limited contact with outside world, Wolbachia may be introduced to the syconium community via horizontal transmission by fig wasps species that have winged males and visit the syconia earlier.

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