On the ubiquity and phylogeny of Wolbachia in lice


K. D. Floate, Fax: 403-382-3156; E-mail: floatek@agr.gc.ca


Wolbachia are intracellular bacteria that occur in an estimated 20% of arthropod species. They are of broad interest because they profoundly affect the reproductive fitness of diverse host taxa. Here we document the apparent ubiquity and diversity of Wolbachia in the insect orders Anoplura (sucking lice) and Mallophaga (chewing lice), by detecting single or multiple infections in each of 25 tested populations of lice, representing 19 species from 15 genera spanning eight taxonomic families. Phylogenetic analyses indicate a high diversity of Wolbachia in lice, as evidenced by the identification of 39 unique strains. Some of these strains are apparently unique to lice, whereas others are similar to strains that infect other insect taxa. Wolbachia are transmitted from infected females to their offspring via egg cyto-plasm, such that similar species of lice are predicted to have similar strains of Wolbachia. This predicted pattern is not supported in the current study and may reflect multiple events of recent horizontal transmission between host species. At present, there is no known mechanism that would allow for this latter mode of transmission to and within species of lice.