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Keywords:

  • Enterobacteriacae;
  • insect-bacteria interactions;
  • nutritional ecology;
  • reproductive success;
  • Tephritidae

Abstract Mediterranean fruit flies (Ceratitis capitata Wiedemann, Diptera: Tephritidae) harbor a community of diazotrophic bacteria in their digestive system. The present study aims to test the hypothesis that bacteria contribute to fly fitness by enhancing copulatory success and egg production in males and females, respectively. After eclosion, flies were fed a full diet containing peptides, sugar and minerals, or a sugar diet, lacking peptides. Subgroups from each diet were fed a mixture of the antibiotics ciprofloxacin and piperacillin. The presence of bacteria, food consumption, weight gain, lipid and protein levels, oviposition in females and copulatory success of males were quantified in the four groups. The antibiotic treatment effectively cleared the gut of bacteria. The relative amounts of food consumed (with or without antibiotics) are similar in all groups. The antibiotics do not inhibit feeding, and their ingestion does not affect dry weight or the amount of protein stored, yet females feeding on the full diet without antibiotics have increased lipid levels. Females fed the full diet produce significantly more eggs than females on the sugar diet, but the presence of bacteria does not affect numbers of eggs produced. However, in the absence of bacteria, the oviposition rate of nutritionally stressed females is significantly accelerated. The presence of bacteria in sugar fed males does not provide them with a mating advantage. Conversely, in males fed a full diet, the presence of bacteria is associated significantly with a shorter latency to mate. It is concluded that, because the bacterial community is present at all stages of the fly’s life cycle, at least some species are effectively transmitted from parents to offspring, and removal of bacteria affects measurable physiological and behavioural parameters related to fitness, the association between bacteria and the medfly is mutualistic.