Organisms and the symbionts they harbor may experience opposing forces of selection. In particular, the contrasting inheritance patterns of maternally transmitted symbionts and their host's nuclear genes can engender conflict among organizational levels over the optimal host offspring sex ratio. This study uses a male-killing Wolbachia endosymbiont and its host Drosophila innubila to experimentally address the potential for multilevel selection in a host-symbiont system. We show that bacterial density can vary among infected females, and that females with a higher density have a more female-biased offspring sex ratio. Furthermore, bacterial density is an epigenetic and heritable trait: females with a low bacterial load have daughters with a lower-than-average bacterial density, whose offspring then experience less severe male-killing. For infected sons, the probability of embryonic mortality increases with the bacterial density in their mothers. The frequency distribution of Wolbachia density among individual D. innubila females, and therefore the dynamics of infection within populations of these flies, results both from processes affecting the growth and regulation of bacterial populations within cytoplasmic lineages and from selection among cytoplasmic lineages that vary in bacterial density. Estimates of effective population size of Wolbachia within cytoplasmic lineages and of D. innubila at the host population level suggest that selection among cytoplasmic lineages is likely to overwhelm the results of selection within lineages.
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Vol. 59 • No. 4