Aphid Species Specializing on Milkweed Have Distinct Bacterial Symbiont Communities
Host plant range is arguably one of the most important factors shaping microbial communities associated with insect herbivores. However, it is unclear whether host plant specialization limits microbial community diversity or to what extent herbivores sharing a common host plant evolve distinct microbiomes. To investigate whether variation in host plant specialization influences the composition of herbivore symbiont populations we compared bacterial diversity across three milkweed aphid species
... weed aphid species (Aphis nerii, Aphis asclepiadis, Myzocallis asclepiadis) feeding on a common host plant (Asclepias syriaca) using 16S rRNA metabarcoding. Overall, bacterial species richness did not vary with degree of host plant specialization. However, aphid species harbored distinct bacterial communities that varied in composition and relative abundance of key symbionts. Differences in aphid microbiomes were primarily due to strain variation in the obligate symbiont Buchnera and facultative symbiont Arsenophonus, as most of the low-abundant taxa were found in all three species. Interestingly, A. asclepiadis harbored a greater diversity of unique strains of Buchnera and significantly higher Arsenophonus relative abundances compared to the other two aphid species. Although many low abundance microbes were shared across all milkweed aphids, key differences exist in symbiotic partnerships that could influence additional ecological variation, including variation in ant tending observed across milkweed aphid species via microbial induced changes to honeydew or defensive chemical profiles. This study suggests generalist and specialist herbivore microbiomes are similar when feeding on a common host plant and highlights an intriguing potential role for strain level variation of key aphid symbionts in host-plant interactions.