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Host plant range is arguably one of the most important factors shaping microbial communities associated with insect herbivores. However, it is unclear whether host plant specialization limits microbial community diversity or to what extent herbivores sharing a common host plant evolve similar microbiomes. To investigate whether variation in host plant range influences the assembly of core herbivore symbiont populations we compared bacterial diversity across three milkweed aphid species (Aphis nerii, Aphis asclepiadis, Myzocallis asclepiadis) feeding on a common host plant (Asclepias syriaca) using 16S rRNA metabarcoding. Overall, although there was significant overlap in taxa detected across all three aphid species (i.e. similar composition), some structural differences were identified within communities. Each aphid species harbored bacterial communities that varied in terms of richness and relative abundance of key symbionts. However, bacterial community diversity did not vary with degree of aphid host plant specialization. Interestingly, the narrow specialist A.asclepiadis harbored significantly higher relative abundances of the facultative symbiont Arsenophonus compared to the other two aphid species. Although many low abundance microbes were shared across all milkweed aphids, key differences in symbiotic partnerships were observed that could influence host physiology or additional ecological variation in traits that are microbially-mediated. Overall, this study suggests overlap in host plant range can select for taxonomically similar microbiomes across herbivore species, but variation in core aphid symbionts within these communities may still occur.


This is the published version of Enders, L., Hansen, T., Brichler, K. et al. Aphid species specializing on milkweed harbor taxonomically similar bacterial communities that differ in richness and relative abundance of core symbionts. Sci Rep 12, 21127 (2022).