Cospeciation of termite gut flagellates and their bacterial endosymbionts: Trichonympha species and ‘Candidatus Endomicrobium trichonymphae’


Andreas Brune, Fax: (+49) 6421 178 709, E-mail:


Symbiotic flagellates play a major role in the digestion of lignocellulose in the hindgut of lower termites. Many termite gut flagellates harbour a distinct lineage of bacterial endosymbionts, so-called Endomicrobia, which belong to the candidate phylum Termite Group 1. Using an rRNA-based approach, we investigated the phylogeny of Trichonympha, the predominant flagellates in a wide range of termite species, and of their Endomicrobia symbionts. We found that Trichonympha species constitute three well-supported clusters in the Parabasalia tree. Endomicrobia were detected only in the apical lineage (Cluster I), which comprises flagellates present in the termite families Termopsidae and Rhinotermitidae, but apparently absent in the basal lineages (Clusters II and III) consisting of flagellates from other termite families and from the wood-feeding cockroach, Cryptocercus punctulatus. The endosymbionts of Cluster I form a monophyletic group distinct from many other lineages of Endomicrobia and seem to have cospeciated with their flagellate host. The distribution pattern of the symbiotic pairs among different termite species indicates that cospeciation of flagellates and endosymbionts is not simply the result of a spatial separation of the flagellate lineages in different termite species, but that Endomicrobia are inherited among Trichonympha species by vertical transmission. We suggest extending the previously proposed candidatus name ‘Endomicrobium trichonymphae’ to all Endomicrobia symbionts of Trichonympha species, and estimate that the acquisition by an ancestor of Trichonympha Cluster I must have occurred about 40–70 million years ago, long after the flagellates entered the termites.