Manifold aspects of specificity in a nematode–bacterium mutualism


Jean-Baptiste Ferdy, Institut des Sciences de l’Évolution de Montpellier, UMR CNRS 5554, Université Montpellier 2, F-34095 Montpellier Cedex 05, France.
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Coevolution in mutualistic symbiosis can yield, because the interacting partners share common interests, to coadaptation: hosts perform better when associated with symbionts of their own locality than with others coming from more distant places. However, as the two partners of a symbiosis might also experience conflicts over part of their life cycle, coadaptation might not occur for all life-history traits. We investigated this issue in symbiotic systems where nematodes (Steinernema) and bacteria (Xenorhabdus) reproduce in insects they have both contributed to kill. Newborn infective juveniles (IJs) that carry bacteria in their intestine then disperse from the insect cadaver in search of a new host to infect. We ran experiments where nematodes coinfect insects with bacteria that differ from their native symbiont. In both Steinernema carpocapsae/Xenorhabdus nematophila and Steinernema feltiae/Xenorhabdus bovienii symbioses, we detected an overall specificity which favours the hypothesis of a fine-tuned co-adaptation process. However, we also found that the life-history traits involved in specificity strongly differ between the two model systems: when associated with strains that differ too much from their native symbionts, S. carpocapsae has low parasitic success, whereas S. feltiae has low survival in dispersal stage.