Lab Overview

Research Description

The Oliver Lab’s research focuses on symbiosis, with a particular interest inaphid-and-symbionts-3 the evolutionary and ecological consequences of associations between insects and heritable microorganisms. Inherited microbes, those that are transmitted vertically from mother to offspring, can spread within host populations by providing benefits to hosts. Defense against natural enemies is one of the most exciting, and potentially widespread, beneficial effects recently discovered in insect-symbiont associations. In this emerging area of inquiry there is much to discover about the dynamics and distributions of defensive symbionts in natural populations, the genetic features of defensive symbionts, including molecular mechanisms of protection, and the impacts these symbionts exert on populations and communities. This lab uses a multidisciplinary approach, incorporating field studies, experimental laboratory assays and microscopy, as well as molecular, genomic and proteomic tools to investigate symbiont-based defense across scales ranging from molecules to populations and communities.

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Selected Figures

 

Factors Limiting the Spread of the Protective Symbiont Hamiltonella defensa in Aphis craccivora aphidsDykstra et al SEP 2014By: Dykstra, Hannah R., Weldon, Stephanie R., Martinez, Adam J., White, Jennifer A., Hopper, Keith R., Heimpel, George E., Asplen, Mark K., Oliver, Kerry M. (SEP 2014)

Abstract

Many insects are associated with heritable symbionts that mediate ecological interactions, including host protection against natural enemies. The cowpea aphid, Aphis craccivora, is a polyphagous pest that harbors Hamiltonella defensa, which defends against parasitic wasps. Despite this protective benefit, this symbiont occurs only at intermediate frequencies in field populations. To identify factors constraining H. defensa invasion in Ap. craccivora, we estimated symbiont transmission rates, performed fitness assays, and measured infection dynamics in population cages to evaluate effects of infection. Similar to results with the pea aphid, Acyrthosiphon pisum, we found no consistent costs to infection using component fitness assays, but we did identify clear costs to infection in population cages when no enemies were present. Maternal transmission rates of H. defensa in Ap. craccivora were high (ca. 99%) but not perfect. Transmission failures and infection costs likely limit the spread of protective H. defensa in Ap. craccivora. We also characterized several parameters of H. defensa infection potentially relevant to the protective phenotype. We confirmed the presence of H. defensa in aphid hemolymph, where it potentially interacts with endoparasites, and performed real-time quantitative PCR (qPCR) to estimate symbiont and phage abundance during aphid development. We also examined strain variation of H. defensa and its bacteriophage at multiple loci, and despite our lines being collected in different regions of North America, they were infected with a nearly identical strains of H. defensa and APSE4 phage. The limited strain diversity observed for these defensive elements may result in relatively static protection profile for this defensive symbiosis. (

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Aphid-encoded variability in susceptibility to a parasitoidMartinez et al JUN 2014By: Martinez, Adam J., Ritter, Shannon G., Doremus, Matthew R., Russell, Jacob A., Oliver, Kerry M. (JUN 2014)

Abstract

Background: Many animals exhibit variation in resistance to specific natural enemies. Such variation may be encoded in their genomes or derived from infection with protective symbionts. The pea aphid, Acyrthosiphon pisum, for example, exhibits tremendous variation in susceptibility to a common natural enemy, the parasitic wasp Aphidius ervi. Pea aphids are often infected with the heritable bacterial symbiont, Hamiltonella defensa, which confers partial to complete resistance against this parasitoid depending on bacterial strain and associated bacteriophages. That previous studies found that pea aphids without H. defensa (or other symbionts) were generally susceptible to parasitism, together with observations of a limited encapsulation response, suggested that pea aphids largely rely on infection with H. defensa for protection against parasitoids. However, the limited number of uninfected clones previously examined, and our recent report of two symbiont-free resistant clones, led us to explicitly examine aphid-encoded variability in resistance to parasitoids.Wasp life cycle

Results: After rigorous screening for known and unknown symbionts, and microsatellite genotyping to confirm clonal identity, we conducted parasitism assays using fifteen clonal pea aphid lines. We recovered significant variability in aphid-encoded resistance, with variation levels comparable to that contributed by H. defensa. Because resistance can be costly, we also measured aphid longevity and cumulative fecundity of the most and least resistant aphid lines under permissive conditions, but found no trade-offs between higher resistance and these fitness parameters.

Conclusions: These results indicate that pea aphid resistance to A. ervi is more complex than previously appreciated, and that aphids employ multiple tactics to aid in their defense. While we did not detect a tradeoff, these may become apparent under stressful conditions or when resistant and susceptible aphids are in direct competition. Understanding sources and amounts of variation in resistance to natural enemies is necessary to understand the ecological and evolutionary dynamics of antagonistic interactions, such as the potential for coevolution, but also for the successful management of pest populations through biological control. (http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2148/14/127)

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Effects of parasitism on aphid nutritional and protective symbiosesMartinez et al MAR 2014By: Martinez, Adam J., Weldon, Stephanie R., Oliver, Kerry M. (MAR 2014)

Abstract

Insects often carry heritable symbionts that negotiate interactions with food plants or natural enemies. All pea aphids, Acyrthosiphon pisum, require infection with the nutritional symbiont Buchnera, and many are also infected with Hamiltonella, which protects against the parasitoid Aphidius ervi. Hamiltonella-based protection requires bacteriophages called APSEs with protection levels varying by strain and associated APSE. Endoparasitoids, including A.ervi, may benefit from protecting the nutritional symbiosis and suppressing the protective one, while the aphid and its heritable symbionts have aligned interests when attacked by the wasp. We investigated the effects of parasitism on the abundance of aphid nutritional and protective symbionts. First, we determined strength of protection associated with multiple symbiont strains and aphid genotypes as these likely impact symbiont responses. Unexpectedly, some A.pisum genotypes cured of facultative symbionts were resistant to parasitism and resistant aphid lines carried Hamiltonella strains that conferred no additional protection. Susceptible aphid clones carried protective strains. qPCR estimates show that parasitism significantly influenced both Buchnera and Hamiltonella titres, with multiple factors contributing to variation. In susceptible lines, parasitism led to increases in Buchnera near the time of larval wasp emergence consistent with parasite manipulation, but effects were variable in resistant lines. Parasitism also resulted in increases in APSE and subsequent decreases in Hamiltonella, and we discuss how this response may relate to the protective phenotype. In summary, we show that parasitism alters the within-host ecology of both nutritional and protective symbioses with effects likely significant for all players in this antagonistic interaction.  (doi: 10.1111/mec.12550)

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Phage loss and the breakdown of a defensive symbiosis in aphidsWeldon et al JAN 2013By: Weldon, S. R., Strand, M. R., Oliver, K. M. (JAN 2013)

Abstract

Terrestrial arthropods are often infected with heritable bacterial symbionts, which may themselves be infected by bacteriophages. However, what role, if any, bacteriophages play in the regulation and maintenance of insect-bacteria symbioses is largely unknown. Infection of the aphid Acyrthosiphon pisum by the bacterial symbiont Hamiltonella defensa confers protection against parasitoid wasps, but only when H. defensa is itself infected by the phage A. pisum secondary endosymbiont (APSE). Here, we use a controlled genetic background and correlation-based assays to show that loss of APSE is associated with up to sevenfold increases in the intra-aphid abundance of H. defensa. APSE loss is also associated with severe deleterious effects on aphid fitness: aphids infected with H. defensa lacking APSE have a significantly delayed onset of reproduction, lower weight at adulthood and half as many total offspring as aphids infected with phage-harbouring H. defensa, indicating that phage loss can rapidly lead to the breakdown of the defensive symbiosis. Our results overall indicate that bacteriophages play critical roles in both aphid defence and the maintenance of heritable symbiosis. (http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2012.2103)