Symbiotic bacteria enable olive flies (Bactrocera oleae) to exploit intractable sources of nitrogen

M. Ben-Yosef*, Z. Pasternak, E. Jurkevitch, B. Yuval

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

113 Scopus citations


Insects are often associated with symbiotic micro-organisms, which allow them to utilize nutritionally marginal diets. Adult fruit flies (Diptera: Tephritidae) associate with extracellular bacteria (Enterobacteriaceae) that inhabit their digestive tract. These flies obtain nutrients by foraging for plant exudates, honeydew and bird droppings scattered on leaves and fruit - a nutritional niche which offers ample amounts of carbohydrates, but low quantities of available nitrogen. We identified the bacteria resident in the gut of the olive fly (Bactrocera oleae) - a worldwide pest of olives and examined their contribution to nitrogen metabolism in the adult insect. By suppressing bacteria in the gut and monitoring female fecundity, we demonstrate that bacteria contribute essential amino acids and metabolize urea into an available nitrogen source for the fly, thus significantly elevating egg production. In an ecological context, bacteria were found to be beneficial to females subsisting on bird droppings, but not on honeydew - two natural food sources. We suggest that a main gut bacterium (Candidatus Erwinia dacicola) forms an inseparable, essential part of this fly's nutritional ecology. The evolution of this symbiosis has allowed adult flies to utilize food substrates which are low or imbalanced in assimilable nitrogen and thereby to overcome the nitrogen limitations of their natural diet.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)2695-2705
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Evolutionary Biology
Issue number12
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2014

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 European Society For Evolutionary Biology.


  • Insects
  • Nitrogen
  • Nutritional ecology
  • Olive fly
  • Symbiosis


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