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Microbial Communities of Three Sympatric Australian Stingless Bee Species
Bacterial symbionts of insects have received increasing attention due to their prominent role in nutrient acquisition and defense. In social bees, symbiotic bacteria can maintain colony homeostasis and fitness, and the loss or alteration of the bacterial community may be associated with the ongoing bee decline observed worldwide. However, analyses of microbiota associated with bees have been largely confined to the social honeybees (Apis mellifera) and bumblebees (Bombus spec.), revealing – among other taxa – host-specific lactic acid bacteria (LAB, genus Lactobacillus) that are not found in solitary bees. Here, we characterized the microbiota of three Australian stingless bee species (Apidae: Meliponini) of two phylogenetically distant genera (Tetragonula and Austroplebeia). Besides common plant bacteria, we find LAB in all three species, showing that LAB are shared by honeybees, bumblebees and stingless bees across geographical regions. However, while LAB of the honeybee-associated Firm4–5 clusters were present in Tetragonula, they were lacking in Austroplebeia. Instead, we found a novel clade of likely host-specific LAB in all three Australian stingless bee species which forms a sister clade to a large cluster of Halictidae-associated lactobacilli. Our findings indicate both a phylogenetic and geographical signal of host-specific LAB in stingless bees and highlight stingless bees as an interesting group to investigate the evolutionary history of the bee-LAB association.
http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0105718
 
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