Background: Wolbachia and Cardinium are endosymbiotic bacteria infecting many arthropods and manipulating host reproduction. Although these bacteria are maternally transmitted, incongruencies between phylogenies of host and parasite suggest an additional role for occasional horizontal transmission. Consistent with this view is the strong evidence for recombination in Wolbachia, although it is less clear to what extent recombination drives diversification within single host species and genera. Furthermore, little is known concerning the population structures of other insect endosymbionts which co-infect with Wolbachia, such as Cardinium. Here, we explore Wolbachia and Cardinium strain diversity within nine spider mite species (Tetranychidae) from 38 populations, and quantify the contribution of recombination compared to point mutation in generating Wolbachia diversity.
Results: We found a high level of genetic diversity for Wolbachia, with 36 unique strains detected (64 investigated mite individuals). Sequence data from four Wolbachia genes suggest that new alleles are 7.5 to 11 times more likely to be generated by recombination than point mutation. Consistent with previous reports on more diverse host samples, our data did not reveal evidence for co-evolution of Wolbachia with its host. Cardinium was less frequently found in the mites, but also showed a high level of diversity, with eight unique strains detected in 15 individuals on the basis of only two genes. A lack of congruence among host and Cardinium phylogenies was observed.
Conclusions: We found a high rate of recombination for Wolbachia strains obtained from host species of the spider mite family Tetranychidae, comparable to rates found for horizontally transmitted bacteria. This suggests frequent horizontal transmission of Wolbachia and/or frequent horizontal transfer of single genes. Our findings strengthens earlier reports of recombination for Wolbachia, and shows that high recombination rates are also present on strains from a restrictive host range. Cardinium was found co-infecting several spider mite species, and phylogenetic comparisons suggest also horizontal transmission of Cardinium among hosts.