Phylogenetic divergence between the obligate luminous symbionts of flashlight fishes demonstrates specificity of bacteria to host genera


  • Tory A. Hendry,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA
    Current affiliation:
    1. Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, University of California, Berkeley, CA
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  • Paul V. Dunlap

    1. Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA
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The luminous bacterial symbionts of anomalopid flashlight fishes, which appear to be obligately dependent on their hosts for growth, share several evolutionary patterns with unrelated obligate bacteria. However, only one flashlight fish symbiont species has been characterized in detail, and it is therefore not known if the bacteria from other anomalopid species are highly divergent (a pattern common to obligate symbionts). Unlike most obligate symbionts, the bacteria symbiotic with anomalopids are extracellular and spend time outside their hosts in the environment, from which they are thought to colonize new host generations. Environmental acquisition might decrease the likelihood of bacterial divergence between host species. We used phylogenetic analysis to determine the relatedness of symbionts from different anomalopid host species. The symbionts of hosts in the genus Photoblepharon were resolved as a new species, for which we propose the name ‘Candidatus Photodesmus blepharus’. Furthermore, different genera of anomalopids were found to harbour different species of bacteria, even when the hosts overlapped in geographic range. This finding suggests that the divergence between bacterial species is not the result of geographic isolation. The specificity of symbionts to host genera is consistent with obligate dependence on the host and has implications for symbiont transmission.