Differential ecological specificity of protist and bacterial microbiomes across a set of termite species

Lena Waidele, Judith Korb, Christian R. Voolstra, Sven Künzel, Franck Dedeine, Fabian Staubach*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


The gut microbiome of lower termites comprises protists and bacteria that help these insects to digest cellulose and to thrive on wood. The composition of the termite gut microbiome correlates with phylogenetic distance of the animal host and host ecology (diet) in termites collected from their natural environment. However, carryover of transient microbes from host collection sites are an experimental concern and might contribute to the ecological imprints on the termite gut microbiome. Here, we set out to test whether an ecological imprint on the termite gut microbiome remains, when focusing on the persistent microbiome. Therefore, we kept five termite species under strictly controlled dietary conditions and subsequently profiled their protist and bacterial gut microbial communities using 18S and 16S rRNA gene amplicon sequencing. The species differed in their ecology; while three of the investigated species were wood-dwellers that feed on the piece of wood they live in and never leave except for the mating flight, the other two species were foragers that regularly leave their nests to forage for food. Despite these prominent ecological differences, protist microbiome structure aligned with phylogenetic relatedness of termite host species. Conversely, bacterial communities seemed more flexible, suggesting that microbiome structure aligned more strongly with the foraging and wood-dwelling ecologies. Interestingly, protist and bacterial community alpha-diversity correlated, suggesting either putative interactions between protists and bacteria, or that both types of microbes in the termite gut follow shared structuring principles. Taken together, our results add to the notion that bacterial communities are more variable over evolutionary time than protist communities and might react more flexibly to changes in host ecology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number2518
Issue numberDEC
StatePublished - Dec 19 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Waidele, Korb, Voolstra, Künzel, Dedeine and Staubach.


  • 16S rRNA gene sequencing
  • 18S rRNA gene sequencing
  • Evolution
  • Host and microbe
  • Microbial ecology
  • Symbiosis
  • Termite

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Microbiology (medical)


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