Bacterial symbionts infect most insect species, including important pests such as whitefly, Bemisia tabaci (Gennadius) (Hemiptera: Aleyrodidae), and often exert important effects on host ecology. The facultative symbiont Hamiltonella is found at high frequencies in the B. tabaciMED (type: Mediterranean—MED) in China. The prevalence of this symbiont in natural populations suggests beneficial effects of infection or manipulation of host reproduction. To date, however, no empirical studies on the biological role of Hamiltonella on the host B. tabaci have been reported. Here, we investigated the effects of Hamiltonella infection on the sex ratio and several fitness parameters in B. tabaci MED by comparing Hamiltonella-infected whiteflies with Hamiltonella-free ones. We found that Hamiltonella-infected whiteflies produced significantly more eggs, exhibited significantly higher nymphal survival, faster development times, and larger adult body size in comparison with Hamiltonella-free whiteflies, while no evidence of reproductive manipulation by Hamiltonella were found in B. tabaci MED. In conclusion, Hamiltonella infection substantially enhanced B. tabaci MED performance. This beneficial role may, at least partially, explain the high prevalence of Hamiltonella in B. tabaci MED populations and may also contribute to their effectiveness in spread of the plant pathogens tomato yellow leaf curl virus.
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Vol. 42 • No. 6