The effect of Wolbachia-induced cytoplasmic incompatibility on host population size in natural and manipulated systems

Stephen L. Dobson, Charles W. Fox, Francis M. Jiggins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

146 Scopus citations


Obligate, intracellular bacteria of the genus Wolbachia often behave as reproductive parasites by manipulating host reproduction to enhance their vertical transmission. One of these reproductive manipulations, cytoplasmic incompatibility, causes a reduction in egg-hatch rate in crosses between individuals with differing infections. Applied strategies based upon cytoplasmic incompatibility have been proposed for both the suppression and replacement of host populations. As Wolbachia infections occur within a broad range of invertebrates, these strategies are potentially applicable to a variety of medically and economically important insects. Here, we examine the interaction between Wolbachia infection frequency and host population size. We use a model to describe natural invasions of Wolbachia infections, artificial releases of infected hosts and releases of sterile males, as part of a traditional sterile insect technique programme. Model simulations demonstrate the importance of understanding the reproductive rate and intraspecific competition type of the targeted population, showing that releases of sterile or incompatible individuals may cause an undesired increase in the adult number. In addition, the model suggests a novel applied strategy that employs Wolbachia infections to suppress host populations. Releases of Wolbachia-infected hosts can be used to sustain artificially an unstable coexistence of multiple incompatible infections within a host population, allowing the host population size to be reduced, maintained at low levels, or eliminated.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)437-445
Number of pages9
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1490
StatePublished - Mar 7 2002


  • Biological control
  • Cytoplasmic incompatibility
  • Population replacement
  • Sterile insect technique
  • Wolbachia pipientis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Environmental Science
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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