N. Wybouw, E. Van Reempts, J. Zarka, F. Zélé and D. Bonte,  Heredity,  2023.

Maternally transmitted symbionts such as Wolbachia can alter sex allocation in haplodiploid arthropods. By biasing population sex ratios towards females, these changes in sex allocation may facilitate the spread of symbionts. In contrast to symbiont-induced cytoplasmic incompatibility (CI), the mechanisms that underpin sex allocation distortion remain poorly understood. Using a nuclear genotype reference panel of the haplodiploid mite Tetranychus urticae and a single Wolbachia variant that is able to simultaneously induce sex allocation distortion and CI, we unraveled the mechanistic basis of Wolbachia-mediated sex allocation distortion. Host genotype was an important determinant for the strength of sex allocation distortion. We further show that sex allocation distortion by Wolbachia in haplodiploid mites is driven by increasing egg size, hereby promoting egg fertilization. This change in reproductive physiology was also coupled to increased male and female adult size. Our results echo previous work on Cardinium symbionts, suggesting that sex allocation distortion by regulating host investment in egg size is a common strategy among symbionts that infect haplodiploids. To better understand the relevance that sex allocation distortion may have for the spread of Wolbachia in natural haplodiploid populations, we parametrized a model based on generated phenotypic data. Our simulations show that empirically derived levels of sex allocation distortion can be sufficient to remove invasion thresholds, allowing CI to drive the spread of Wolbachia independently of the initial infection frequency. Our findings help elucidate the mechanisms that underlie the widespread occurrence of symbionts in haplodiploid arthropods and the evolution of sex allocation.

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