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Experimental warming reduces gut prokaryotic diversity, survival and thermal tolerance of the eastern subterranean termite, Reticulitermes flavipes (Kollar)

By Rachel A. Arango, Sean D. Schoville, Cameron R Currie, Camila Carlos-Shanley

Posted 19 Sep 2020
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.09.19.300780

Understanding the effects of environmental disturbances on the health and physiology of insects is crucial in predicting the impact of climate change on their distribution, abundance, and ecology. As microbial symbionts have been shown to play an integral role in a diversity of functions within the insect host, research examining how organisms adapt to environmental fluctuations should include their associated microbiota. Previous studies have shown that temperature affects the diversity of protists in termite gut, but less is known about the bacterial symbionts. In this study, subterranean termites ( Reticulitermes flavipes (Kollar)) were exposed to three different temperature treatments characterized as low (15 °C), medium (27 °C), and high (35 °C). Results showed low temperature exposed termites had significantly lower CTmin and significantly higher SCP values compared to termites from medium or high temperature groups. This suggests that pre-exposure to cold allowed termites to stay active longer in decreasing temperatures but caused termites to freeze at higher temperatures. High temperature exposure had the most deleterious effects on termites with a significant reduction in termite survival as well as reduced ability to withstand cold stress. The microbial community of high temperature exposed termites showed a reduction in bacterial richness and decreased relative abundance of Spirochaetes, Elusimicrobia, and methanogenic Euryarchaeota. Our results indicate a potential link between gut bacterial symbionts and termite’s physiological response to environmental changes and highlight the need to consider microbial symbionts in studies relating to insect thermosensitivity. ### Competing Interest Statement The authors have declared no competing interest.

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