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Animals are now known to be intimately associated with microbial communities, some of which enhance animal fitness. Yet relatively little is known about how these beneficial associations initially arose. We investigated this problem with an experiment on burying beetles, Nicrophorus vespilloides, which breed on the body of a small dead vertebrate. We found that burying beetles breeding on germ-free mice produced smaller larvae, with lower fitness, than those breeding on conventional germ-ladendoi:10.1101/357657 fatcat:zcltbvefyvfclccv4frrms7a3m