CE02 - Terre vivante

Is the gut microbiota a key driver of social evolution in insects? – MicroSoc

Is the gut microbiota a key driver of social evolution in insects?

Why and how animal social life has emerged from a solitary state is a long-standing question in biology. In this project, we aim to test a novel hypothesis positing that social evolution is not only driven by the benefits of social life for group members, but also by the benefits of social life for the microbes they host.

Context and objectives

This project offers to (Task 1) identify which gut bacteria are associated with the sociality of earwigs, (Task 2) test how these gut microbes benefit from earwigs’ social life and (Tasks 3 & 4) explore whether and how the experimental transfer of these gut microbes modifies the sociality of the recipient earwigs. We will finally test the general applicability of our main hypothesis by (Task 5) exploring the co-evolutionary history between the sociality-driving bacteria identified in earwigs’ gut and the presence or absence of a social life in a large number of hosts species.

In this project, we propose to combine methods of metagenomics and behavioural ecology to study the role of gut microbes in the sociality of the European earwig, a host that retains the rare capability to shift between solitary and social life. We will use experimental approaches to identify which gut microbes are associated with host sociality, test how these microbes can benefit from and increase the sociality of their hosts, and shed light on the genetic and chemical mechanisms allowing these gut microbes to induce host sociality. We will then take a broader perspective and use an in silico approach to investigate the co-evolutionary history between these microbes and the social life of their hosts across insect species ranging from solitary to complex social systems

in progress

Overall, the results of MicroSoc should provide novel perspectives in our general understanding of the critical evolutionary transition from solitary to social life, as they will shed light on a neglected unit of selection in this framework (i.e. microbes) and foster the development of new theoretical and empirical works testing its importance relative to the classical drivers of social evolution.

1. Van Meyel S, Devers S, Dupont S, Dedeine F and Meunier J (2021) Alteration of gut microbiota with a broad-spectrum antibiotic does not impair maternal care in the European earwig. J Evol Biol 34:1034–1045. doi.org/10.1111/jeb.13791

2. Diedermann PHW, Rohlfs M, McMahon DP, Meunier J (2021) Editorial: Microbial Drivers of Sociality – From Multicellularity to Animal Societies. Front Ecol Evol 9:1–4. doi.org/10.3389/fevo.2021.752906

3. Meunier J, Körner M, Kramer J (2022) Parental care. In: Omkar, Mishra G (eds) Reproductive Strategies in Insects. CRC Press, Boca Raton, pp 337–348

A long-standing problem in biology is to understand why and how animal social life has emerged from a solitary state. MicroSoc proposes to address these questions by testing a novel hypothesis positing that social life may not only emerge due to its benefits for the group members but also due to its benefits for their gut microbiota. Using a host species that retains the unique capability to naturally shift between solitary and social life, we will use experimental approaches to identify which gut microbes are associated with host sociality, test how these microbes can benefit from and increase the sociality of their hosts, and shed light on the genetic and chemical mechanisms allowing these gut microbes to induce hosts sociality. We will then take a broader perspective and use an in silico approach to investigate the co-evolutionary history between these microbes and the social life of their hosts across insect species ranging from solitary to complex social systems.

Project coordination

Joël Meunier (Institut de recherche sur la biologie de l'insecte)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.

Partner

IRBI Institut de recherche sur la biologie de l'insecte

Help of the ANR 299,808 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: March 2021 - 48 Months

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