Antonie van Leeuwenhoek

, Volume 111, Issue 4, pp 573–587 | Cite as

Evidence from the gut microbiota of swarming alates of a vertical transmission of the bacterial symbionts in Nasutitermes arborum (Termitidae, Nasutitermitinae)

  • Michel Diouf
  • Vincent Hervé
  • Philippe Mora
  • Alain Robert
  • Sophie Frechault
  • Corinne Rouland-Lefèvre
  • Edouard Miambi
Original Paper


Studies on termite symbiosis have revealed that significant symbiont lineages are maintained across generations. However, most studies have focused only on the worker caste. Little is known about the gut microbiota of reproductives, the most probable vectors for transmitting these lineages to offspring. Using 16S rRNA gene-based Illumina MiSeq sequencing, we compared the gut microbiota of swarming alates of the higher termite Nasutitermes arborum with those of their nestmates from the parental colony. The OTU-based alpha diversity indices showed that the gut microbiota of the alates was at least as diverse as those of non-reproductive adults. It was largely dominated by Spirochaetes mostly of the Treponema I cluster (63.1% of reads), the same dominant taxa found in soldiers and workers of this species and in workers of closely related Nasutitermes species. The termite-specific lineages also included other representative taxa such as several clusters of Bacteroidetes and Fibrobacteres-TG3 group. The microbiota of alates was dominated by a core set of host-specific lineages (87% of reads, 77.6% of OTUs), which were always present across all castes/stages. This first comprehensive survey of the microbiota of the founding reproductives of these xylophagous higher termites shows that the bulk of the host endogenous symbionts, mostly taxa that cannot thrive outside the gut, are brought from the parent colony. The royal pair therefore seems to be a key player in the transmission of symbionts across generations and thereby in host-symbiont codiversification. The high proportion of fiber-degrading lineages in their gut suggests a wood-rich diet unlike the larval stages.


Swarming alates Nasutitermes Gut-microbiota Symbiont transmission 16S rRNA gene Treponema 



This study did not benefit from a special funding.

Author's contribution

All Authors listed on the title page have contributed significantly to the work, have participated to the improvement of the quality of the manuscript and agree to its submission to the Antonie van Leeuwenhoek.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

On behalf of all co-authors (Vincent Hervé, Philippe Mora, Alain Robert, Sophie Frechault, Corinne Rouland-Lefèvre, Edouard Miambi), I declare that we have no conflict of interest to underline.

Supplementary material

10482_2017_978_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (350 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 350 kb)
10482_2017_978_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (40 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (PDF 39 kb)
10482_2017_978_MOESM3_ESM.xlsx (60 kb)
Supplementary material 3 (XLSX 60 kb)


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© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Département ECOEVOInstitut d’Ecologie et des Sciences de l’Environnement de Paris (IEES, Paris), équipe Biologie des termites et fonctionnement des écosystèmes tropicaux (EcoTerm), Faculté des Sciences et TechnologieCréteilFrance
  2. 2.Laboratory of Microbiology, Institute of BiologyUniversity of NeuchâtelNeuchâtelSwitzerland
  3. 3.Laboratory of Biogeosciences, Institute of Earth Surface DynamicsUniversity of LausanneLausanneSwitzerland
  4. 4.Département ECOEVOInstitut d’Ecologie et des Sciences de l’Environnement de Paris (IEES, Paris), équipe Biologie des termites et fonctionnement des écosystèmes tropicaux (EcoTerm), Centre IRD France NordBondyFrance

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