Endosymbionts-microbes that live within and engage in prolonged and intimate associations with their hosts-are gaining recognition for their direct impact on plant and animal reproduction. Here we used the overlooked Wolbachia-flea system to explore the possibility that endosymbionts may also play a role as mediators in shaping the reproductive success of their hosts. We simultaneously quantified the Wolbachia density in field- and laboratory-originated fleas that fed and mated on rodents for either 5 or 10 days and assessed their body size and current reproductive success. By combining multigroup analysis and model selection approaches, we teased apart the contribution of the direct effects of the flea's physiological age and body size and the mediation effect of its Wolbachia endosymbionts on flea reproductive success, and we showed that the latter was stronger than the former. However, interestingly, the mediation effect was manifested only in laboratory-originated fleas, for which the increase in Wolbachia with age translated into lower reproductive success. These results suggest that some well-supported phenomena, such as aging effects, may be driven by endosymbionts and show once again that the role of endosymbionts in shaping the reproductive success of their host depends on their selective environment.
- Laboratory-originated insects
- Mediation effects
- Model selection
- Multigroup path analysis
- Reproductive success
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology