Extraordinarily widespread and fantastically complex: comparative biology of endosymbiotic bacterial and fungal mutualists of insects




Ecology Letters (2010) 13: 223–234


Endosymbiosis is a pervasive, powerful force in arthropod evolution. In the recent literature, bacterial symbionts of insects have been shown to function as reproductive manipulators, nutritional mutualists and as defenders of their hosts. Fungi, like bacteria, are also frequently associated with insects. Initial estimates suggest that insect–fungal endosymbionts are hyperdiverse, yet there has been comparatively little research investigating the roles that fungi play in their insect hosts. In many systems in which the bacterial symbionts are well-characterized, the possible presence of fungi has been routinely ignored. Why has there been so little research on this important group of symbionts? Here, we explore the differences between fungal and bacterial endosymbiotic insect mutualists. We make predictions about why a bacterium or fungus might be found associated with an insect host given particular ecological, physiological, or evolutionary conditions. We also touch on the various hurdles for studying fungal vs. bacterial endosymbionts and potential future research directions.