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Interspecific horizontal Wolbachia transmission between native and invasive Rhagoletis fruit flies in action

Project Leader
Schuler Hannes, Project Leader
Type of Research
Applied Research
Stauffer Christian, Project Staff
BOKU Research Units
Institute of Forest Entomology, Forest Pathology and Forest Protection
Funded by
Fonds zur Förderung der wissenschaftlichen Forschung (FWF) , Sensengasse 1, 1090 Wien, Austria
Endosymbiontic bacteria are widespread in different arthropod species and have important consequences for the host. The most common reproductive endosymbiont is the alphaproteobacterium Wolbachia. This endosymbiont evolved various different mechanisms distorting the reproduction of its host to its own advantage facilitating its vertical transmission. Incongruence between Wolbachia and host phylogenies showed the absence of long-term coevolution suggesting that the bacteria can switch horizontally among species. However, examples of the occurrence of horizontal transmission and subsequent spread in field populations are scarce.

The eastern cherry fruit fly Rhagoletis cingulata is an important economic pest species infesting cherries species in its native range in North America. It was recently introduced to Europe were it co-infests cherries with the native European cherry fruit fly Rhagoletis cerasi. The shared habitat of the two insect species resulted in the recent transmission of a Wolbachia strain – wCin1 from R. cerasi to R. cingulata. Additionally specific R. cerasi populations are infected by a Wolbachia strain – wCer2 that is present in R. cingulata. Aim of this proposal is to study the dynamics of the early stages of an invasion process on two trophic levels, the fruit fly and its Wolbachia community.

Our research objective will be accomplished by a comparative genomic approach sequencing the whole genome of different Wolbachia strains. We will specifically survey Wolbachia in invasive R. cingulata populations in Europe and trace the evolutionary dynamics of the newly acquired endosymbiont in natural populations. Further we plan to study the introduction routes of R. cingulata with a population genetic approach (ddRadSeq) and compare it with a genomic scan of R. cerasi. We will also investigate the interaction of different Wolbachia strains within the host fly. Finally, crossing studies will show phenotypic effects of the different Wolbachia strains on their host as well as potential ecological interactions of the two congeners. The joint study of Wolbachia in native and invasive fruit flies will reveal insights into the early stages of a Wolbachia spread in nature and its influence on its host.
Fruit growing; Plant protection;
Horizontal transmission; Invasive species; Rhagoletis; Wolbachia;
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