Gut bacteria of weevils developing on plant roots under extreme desert conditions

Fengqun Meng, Nitsan Bar-Shmuel, Reut Shavit, Adi Behar, Michal Segoli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Background: Many phytophagous insects, whose diet is generally nitrogen-poor, rely on gut bacteria to compensate for nutritional deficits. Accordingly, we hypothesized that insects in desert environments may evolve associations with gut bacteria to adapt to the extremely low nutrient availability. For this, we conducted a systematic survey of bacterial communities in the guts of weevils developing inside mud chambers affixed to plant roots in the Negev Desert of Israel, based on 16S rRNA gene amplicon sequencing. Results: Our analyses revealed that gut bacterial communities in weevil larvae were similar across a wide geographical range, but differed significantly from those of the mud chambers and of the surrounding soils. Nevertheless, a high proportion of bacteria (including all of the core bacteria) found in the weevils were also detected in the mud chambers and soils at low relative abundances. The genus Citrobacter (of the Enterobacteriaceae family) was the predominant group in the guts of all individual weevils. The relative abundance of Citrobacter significantly decreased at the pupal and adult stages, while bacterial diversity increased. A mini literature survey revealed that members of the genus Citrobacter are associated with nitrogen fixation, recycling of uric acid nitrogen, and cellulose degradation in different insects. Conclusions: The results suggest that although weevils could potentially acquire their gut bacteria from the soil, weevil host internal factors, rather than external environmental factors, were more important in shaping their gut bacterial communities, and suggest a major role for Citrobacter in weevil nutrition in this challenging environment. This study highlights the potential involvement of gut bacteria in the adaptation of insects to nutritional deficiencies under extreme desert conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number311
JournalBMC Microbiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 30 Dec 2019


  • Beetle
  • Citrobacter
  • Desert ecosystem
  • Nutrient
  • Symbiont
  • Weevil

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Microbiology (medical)


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