Journal of Chemical Ecology

, Volume 20, Issue 8, pp 2003–2020

Cellulose digestion in primitive hexapods: Effect of ingested antibiotics on gut microbial populations and gut cellulase levels in the firebrat,Thermobia domestica (Zygentoma, Lepismatidae)

  • David S. Treves
  • Michael M. Martin

DOI: 10.1007/BF02066239

Cite this article as:
Treves, D.S. & Martin, M.M. J Chem Ecol (1994) 20: 2003. doi:10.1007/BF02066239


Antibiotic feeding studies were conducted on the firebrat,Thermobia domestica (Zygentoma, Lepismatidae) to determine if the insect's gut cellulases were of insect or microbial origin. Firebrats were fed diets containing either nystatin, metronidazole, streptomycin, tetracycline, or an antibiotic cocktail consisting of all four antibiotics, and then their gut microbial populations and gut cellulase levels were monitored and compared with the gut microbial populations and gut cellulase levels in firebrats feeding on antibiotic-free diets. Each antibiotic significantly reduced the firebrat's gut micro-flora. Nystatin reduced the firebrat's viable gut fungi by 89%. Tetracycline and the antibiotic cocktail reduced the firebrat's viable gut bacteria by 81% and 67%, respectively, and metronidazole, streptomycin, tetracycline, and the antibiotic cocktail reduced the firebrat's total gut flora by 35%, 32%, 55%, and 64%, respectively. Although antibiotics significantly reduced the firebrat's viable and total gut flora, gut cellulase levels in firebrats fed antibiotics were not significantly different from those in firebrats on an antibiotic-free diet. Furthermore, microbial populations in the firebrat's gut decreased significantly over time, even in firebrats feeding on the antibiotic-free diet, without corresponding decreases in gut cellulase levels. Based on this evidence, we conclude that the gut cellulases of firebrats are of insect origin. This conclusion implies that symbiont-independent cellulose digestion is a primitive trait in insects and that symbiont-mediated cellulose digestion is a derived condition.

Key Words

Cellulose digestion cellulases firebrats Thermobia domestica Lepismatidae Zygentoma Thysanura 

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1994

Authors and Affiliations

  • David S. Treves
    • 1
  • Michael M. Martin
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of MichiganAnn Arbor