Symbioses: A key driver of insect physiological processes, ecological interactions, evolutionary diversification, and impacts on humans
Symbiosis is receiving increased attention among all aspects of biology because of the unifying themes it helps construct across ecological, evolutionary, developmental, semiochemical, and pest management theory. Insects show a vast array of symbiotic relationships with a wide diversity of microorganisms. These relationships may confer a variety of benefits to the host (macrosymbiont), such as direct or indirect nutrition, ability to counter the defenses of plant or animal hosts, protection from natural enemies, improved development and reproduction, and communication. Benefits to the microsymbiont (including a broad range of fungi, bacteria, mites, nematodes, etc.) often include transport, protection from antagonists, and protection from environmental extremes. Symbiotic relationships may be mutualistic, commensal, competitive, or parasitic. In many cases, individual relationships may include both beneficial and detrimental effects to each partner during various phases of their life histories or as environmental conditions change. The outcomes of insect-microbial interactions are often strongly mediated by other symbionts and by features of the external and internal environment. These outcomes can also have important effects on human well being and environmental quality, by affecting agriculture, human health, natural resources, and the impacts of invasive species. We argue that, for many systems, our understanding of symbiotic relationships will advance most rapidly where context dependency and multipartite membership are integrated into existing conceptual frameworks. Furthermore, the contribution of entomological studies to overall symbiosis theory will be greatest where preoccupation with strict definitions and artificial boundaries is minimized, and integration of emerging molecular and quantitative techniques is maximized. We highlight symbiotic relations involving bark beetles to illustrate examples of the above trends.
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