1 Ecology and Evolution, Department of Biology, Faculty of Science, Københavns Universitet2 Microbiology, Department of Biology, Faculty of Science, Københavns Universitet3 Max Planck Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology4 Wageningen University and Research Centre5 Université Nangui Abrogoua6 Ecology and Evolution, Department of Biology, Faculty of Science, Københavns Universitet7 Microbiology, Department of Biology, Faculty of Science, Københavns Universitet
Gut microbes play a crucial role in decomposing lignocellulose to fuel termite societies, with protists in the lower termites and prokaryotes in the higher termites providing these services. However, a single basal subfamily of the higher termites, the Macrotermitinae, also domesticated a plant biomass-degrading fungus (Termitomyces), and how this symbiont acquisition has affected the fungus-growing termite gut microbiota has remained unclear. The objective of our study was to compare the intestinal bacterial communities of five genera (nine species) of fungus-growing termites to establish whether or not an ancestral core microbiota has been maintained and characterizes extant lineages. Using 454-pyrosequencing of the 16S rRNA gene, we show that gut communities have representatives of 26 bacterial phyla and are dominated by Firmicutes, Bacteroidetes, Spirochaetes, Proteobacteria, and Synergistetes. A set of 42 genus-level taxa was present in all termite species and accounted for 56-68% of the species-specific reads. Gut communities of termites from the same genus were more similar than distantly related species, suggesting that phylogenetic ancestry matters, possibly in connection with specific termite genus-level ecological niches. Finally, we show that gut communities of fungus-growing termites are similar to cockroaches, both at the bacterial phylum level and in a comparison of the core Macrotermitinae taxa abundances with representative cockroach, lower termite, and higher non-fungus-growing termites. These results suggest that the obligate association with Termitomyces has forced the bacterial gut communities of the fungus-growing termites towards a relatively uniform composition with higher similarity to their omnivorous relatives than to more closely related termites. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.