Ecological and evolutionary drivers of microbial community structure in termite guts

Carsten Dietrich, Brune, Andreas (Prof. Dr.)
Presumably descending from subsocial cockroaches 150 million years ago, termites are an order of social insects that gained the ability to digest wood through the acquisition of cellulolytic flagellates. These eukaryotic protists fill up the bulk of the hindgut volume and are the major habitat of the prokaryotic community present in the digestive tract of lower termites. The complete loss of gut flagellates in the youngest termite family Termitidae, also called higher termites, led to an
more » ... y prokaryotic gut microbiota as well as a substantial dietary diversification and enormous ecological success. While the subfamily Macrotermitinae established a symbiosis with wood-degrading fungi of the genus Termitomyces, other higher termites exploit diets with a higher degree of humification. Previous studies on the gut communities of termites have observed that while the gut microbiota of closely related hosts is very similar, those of more distantly related hosts are characterized by considerable differences in gut communities. Since these observations are based on highly limited samplings of hosts, it is uncertain if these differences reflect important evolutionary patterns. This dissertation includes studies examining the archaeal and bacterial diversity of the gut microbiota over a wide range of termites using high-throughput sequencing of the 16S rRNA genes. In comparison to the rather simple archaeal communities, which were mainly composed of methanogens, the bacterial gut microbiota were characterized by considerably higher diversity. At the phylum-level, Bacteroidetes, Firmicutes, Proteobacteria and Spirochaetes were ubiquitously distributed among the termites, albeit with differences in relative abundance. Other phyla, however, such as Elusimicrobia, Fibrobacteres and the candidate division TG3, occured only in certain h [...]
doi:10.17192/z2015.0344 fatcat:hbtsobobcbaqpikslagnott3y4