Wolbachia infection negatively impacts Drosophila simulans heat tolerance in a strain- and trait-specific manner

Liam F Ferguson, Perran A Ross, Belinda van Heerwaarden,  bioRxiv,  2023.

The susceptibility of insects to rising temperatures has largely been measured by their ability to survive thermal extremes. However, until recently, the capacity for maternally inherited endosymbionts to influence insect heat tolerance has been overlooked. Further, the impact of heat on traits like fertility, which can decline at temperatures below the lethal thermal limit has largely been ignored. Here, we assess the impact of three Wolbachia strains (wRi, wAu, and wNo) on the survival and fertility of Drosophila simulans exposed to heat stress during development or as adults. The impact of Wolbachia infection on heat tolerance was generally small and trait/strain specific. Only the wNo infection significantly reduced survival and fertility of adult males after a heat shock. When exposed to a fluctuating heat stress during development, the wRi and wAu strains reduced egg-to-adult survival but only the wNo infection reduced male fertility. Wolbachia densities of all three strains decreased under developmental heat stress, but reductions occurred at temperatures above those that reduced fertility of the host. These findings reveal the complexity of endosymbiont-host-environment interactions and emphasise the necessity to account for endosymbionts and their effect on both survival and fertility when investigating the vulnerability of insects to climate change.

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