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Dynamics of the continent-wide spread of a Drosophila defensive symbiont


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Facultative symbionts can represent important sources of adaptation for their insect hosts and thus have the potential for rapid spread. Drosophila neotestacea harbours a heritable symbiont, Spiroplasma, that confers protection against parasitic nematodes. We previously found a cline in Spiroplasma prevalence across central Canada, ending abruptly at the Rocky Mountains. Resampling these populations 9 years later revealed that Spiroplasma had increased substantially across the region, resembling a Fisherian wave of advance. Associations between Spiroplasma infection and host mitochondrial DNA indicate that the increase was due to local increase of Spiroplasma-infected flies. Finally, we detected Spiroplasma west of the Rocky Mountains for the first time and showed that defence against nematodes occurs in flies with a western genetic background. Because nematode infection is common throughout D. neotestacea's range, we expect Spiroplasma to spread to the Pacific coast.