Earthworm ecology affects the population structure of their Verminephrobacter symbionts

Viana, Flávia; Jensen, Christopher Erik; Macey, Michael; Schramm, Andreas and Lund, Marie Braad (2016). Earthworm ecology affects the population structure of their Verminephrobacter symbionts. Systematic and Applied Microbiology, 39(3) pp. 170–172.



Earthworms carry species-specific Verminephrobacter symbionts in their nephridia (excretory organs). The symbionts are vertically transmitted via the cocoon, can only colonize the host during early embryonic development, and have co-speciated with their host for about 100 million years. Although several studies have addressed Verminephrobacter diversity between worm species, the intra-species diversity of the symbiont population has never been investigated. In this study, symbiont population structure was examined by using a multi-locus sequence typing (MLST) approach on Verminephrobacter isolated from two contrasting ecological types of earthworm hosts: the high population density, fast reproducing compost worms, Eisenia andrei and Eisenia fetida, and the low-density, slow reproducing Aporrectodea tuberculata, commonly found in garden soils. Three distinct populations were investigated for both types and, according to MLST analysis of 193 Verminephrobacter isolates, the symbiont community in each worm individual was very homogeneous. The more solitary A. tuberculata carried unique symbiont populations in 9 out of 10 host individuals, whereas the symbiont populations in the social compost worms were homogeneous across host individuals from the same population. These data suggested that host ecology shaped the population structure of Verminephrobacter symbionts. The homogeneous symbiont populations in the compost worms led to the hypothesis that Verminephrobacter could be transferred bi-parentally or via leaky horizontal transmission in high-density, frequently mating worm populations.

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