Population genomics of a symbiont in the early stages of a pest invasion

Amanda M.V. Brown, Lynn Y. Huynh, Caitlin M. Bolender, Kelly G. Nelson, John P. McCutcheon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


Invasive species often depend on microbial symbionts, but few studies have examined the evolutionary dynamics of symbionts during the early stages of an invasion. The insect Megacopta cribraria and its bacterial nutritional symbiont Candidatus Ishikawaella capsulata invaded the southeastern US in 2009. While M. cribraria was initially discovered on wild kudzu plants, it was found as a pest on soybeans within 1 year of infestation. Because prior research suggests Ishikawaella confers the pest status - that is, the ability to thrive on soybeans - in some Megacopta species, we performed a genomic study on Ishikawaella from US. Megacopta cribraria populations to understand the role of the symbiont in driving host plant preferences. We included Ishikawaella samples collected in the first days of the invasion in 2009 and from 23 locations across the insect's 2011 US range. The 0.75 Mb symbiont genome revealed only 47 fixed differences from the pest-conferring Ishikawaella in Japan, with only one amino acid change in a nutrition-provisioning gene. This similarity, along with a lack of fixed substitutions in the US symbiont population, indicates that Ishikawella likely arrived in the US capable of being a soybean pest. Analyses of allele frequency changes between 2009 and 2011 uncover signatures of both positive and negative selection and suggest that symbionts on soybeans and kudzu experience differential selection for genes related to nutrient provisioning. Our data reveal the evolutionary trajectory of an important insect-bacteria symbiosis in the early stages of an invasion, highlighting the role microbial symbionts may play in the spread of invasive species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1516-1530
Number of pages15
JournalMolecular ecology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Mar 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Ishikawaella
  • Megacopta
  • invasive species
  • population genomics
  • soybean pest
  • symbiont

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics


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