An ecological cost associated with protective symbionts of aphids



Beneficial symbioses are widespread and diverse in the functions they provide to the host ranging from nutrition to protection. However, these partnerships with symbionts can be costly for the host. Such costs, so called “direct costs”, arise from a trade-off between allocating resources to symbiosis and other functions such as reproduction or growth. Ecological costs may also exist when symbiosis negatively affects the interactions between the host and other organisms in the environment. Although ecological costs can deeply impact the evolution of symbiosis, they have received little attention. The pea aphid Acyrthosiphon pisum benefits a strong protection against its main parasitoids from protective bacterial symbionts. The ecological cost of symbiont-mediated resistance to parasitism in aphids was here investigated by analyzing aphid behavior in the presence of predatory ladybirds. We showed that aphids harboring protective symbionts expressed less defensive behaviors, thus suffering a higher predation than symbiont-free aphids. Consequently, our study indicates that this underlined ecological cost may affect both the coevolutionary processes between symbiotic partners and the prevalence of such beneficial bacterial symbionts in host natural populations.