A defensive endosymbiont fails to protect aphids against the parasitoid community present in the field

Paul A. Lenhart, Jennifer A. White

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


1. The value of protective mutualisms provided by some facultative endosymbionts has been well demonstrated in the laboratory, yet only recently has their effectiveness in the field been studied. ‘Candidatus Hamiltonella defensa’ is known to defend aphids from parasitoid wasps in laboratory trials. However, the efficacy of this defence varies among parasitoids, suggesting that protection will vary spatially and temporally depending on parasitoid community composition. 2. This demonstrated specificity and a dearth of studies on Hamiltonella in the field prompted the authors to quantify parasitism rates of Hamiltonella-infected and -uninfected Aphis craccivora Koch aphid colonies in a manipulative field study. 3. It was found that A. craccivora in central Kentucky alfalfa were parasitised by Lysiphlebus testaceipes (Cresson) and Aphelinus sp. Surprisingly, Hamiltonella infection did not lower successful parasitism by the naturally occurring parasitoid wasps. Whether Hamiltonella was effective against L. testaceipes was subsequently tested in a controlled laboratory assay, and no effect on parasitism rate was found. 4. This study emphasises the fact that defensive symbionts sometimes provide no tangible defensive benefits under field conditions, depending on parasitoid community composition. It is hypothesised that the protective mutualism may be beneficial in geographically localised areas. When the symbiosis is effective against a local parasitoid community, aphid clones may experience eruptive population growth and rapidly disperse across a large area, allowing spread to habitats with different parasitoid communities where the mutualism is an ineffective defence.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)680-684
Number of pages5
JournalEcological Entomology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 The Royal Entomological Society


  • Aerial plankton
  • defensive symbiosis
  • host–parasitoid interactions
  • protective mutualism
  • symbiont

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Insect Science


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