Wolbachia in the spittlebug Prosapia ignipectus: Variable infection frequencies, but no apparent effect on host reproductive isolation

Timothy B. Wheeler, Vinton Thompson, William R. Conner, Brandon S. Cooper

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Animals serve as hosts for complex communities of microorganisms, including endosymbionts that live inside their cells. Wolbachia bacteria are perhaps the most common endosymbionts, manipulating host reproduction to propagate. Many Wolbachia cause cytoplasmic incompatibility (CI), which results in reduced egg hatch when uninfected females mate with infected males. Wolbachia that cause intense CI spread to high and relatively stable frequencies, while strains that cause weak or no CI tend to persist at intermediate, often variable, frequencies. Wolbachia could also contribute to host reproductive isolation (RI), although current support for such contributions is limited to a few systems. To test for Wolbachia frequency variation and effects on host RI, we sampled several local Prosapia ignipectus (Fitch) (Hemiptera: Cercopidae) spittlebug populations in the northeastern United States over two years, including closely juxtaposed Maine populations with different monomorphic color forms, “black” and “lined.” We discovered a group-B Wolbachia (wPig) infecting P. ignipectus that diverged from group-A Wolbachia—like model wMel and wRi strains in Drosophila—6 to 46 MYA. Populations of the sister species Prosapia bicincta (Say) from Hawaii and Florida are uninfected, suggesting that P. ignipectus acquired wPig after their initial divergence. wPig frequencies were generally high and variable among sites and between years. While phenotyping wPig effects on host reproduction is not currently feasible, the wPig genome contains three divergent sets of CI loci, consistent with high wPig frequencies. Finally, Maine monomorphic black and monomorphic lined populations of P. ignipectus share both wPig and mtDNA haplotypes, implying no apparent effect of wPig on the maintenance of this morphological contact zone. We hypothesize P. ignipectus acquired wPig horizontally as observed for many Drosophila species, and that significant CI and variable transmission produce high but variable wPig frequencies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)10054-10065
Number of pages12
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number15
StatePublished - Aug 2021


  • Cercopidae
  • cytoplasmic incompatibility
  • endosymbiosis
  • host–microbe interaction
  • speciation


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