Insects are essential to biodiversity and are among the most successful species on the planet. However, it is not yet clear how they can exploit this diversity of food sources. According to a recent study published in the journal nature and its evolutionBacteria played an important role.
“Insect diets vary from human blood, in the case of mosquitoes, to the wood used to build our homes, in the case of termites. The common denominator is bacteria. Our findings show that bacteria play an important role in providing insects with nutrients,” says Charlie Cornwallis, researcher. Biology at Lund University: “They need them to survive and thrive.”
The study, which involved Weevils, showed that the bacteria continually provide the insects with vitamin B, a vital nutrient that they cannot make themselves. Insects have become so dependent on bacteria that they have evolved new organelles to house them – the so-called bacteria factories.
“The nutrients provided by the bacteria have enabled insects to survive on very unbalanced diets and to exploit new types of food resources. Some insects, like aphids, feed only on bark, mainly sugary water. Imagine being able to Live a healthy life solely on sweets!, says Charlie Cornwallis.
However, the effects of bacteria on insect biodiversity and diversity are not direct. In some insect families, specialization in certain diets that include blood has halted species diversity. But in most cases, such as plant-eating insects, food specialization is associated with a large increase in species.
“Insects are all around us and affect all areas of our lives. They spread disease and even threaten food production as pests of crops. Knowing how and why insects survive and their diversity is important for understanding the evolution of the natural world and its impact on our well-being,” says Charlie Cornwallis.
Charlie K. nature and its evolution (2023). DOI: 10.1038/s41559-023-02058-0
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