MIVEGEC (Maladies Infectieuses et Vecteurs : Ecologie, Génétique, Evolution et Contrôle), Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) - Institut pour la Recherche et le Développement (IRD), Université de Montpellier (UM), Montpellier, France. Electronic address: [Email]
The bacterium Spiroplasma ixodetis is a maternally inherited endosymbiont primarily described from ticks but also found widespread across other arthropods. While it has been identified as a male-killing agent in some insect species, the consequences of infection with S. ixodetis in ticks are entirely unknown, and it is unclear how this endosymbiont spreads across tick species. Here, we have investigated this aspect through the examination of the diversity and evolutionary history of S. ixodetis infections in 12 tick species and 12 other arthropod species. Using a multi-locus typing approach, we identified that ticks harbor a substantial diversity of divergent S. ixodetis strains. Phylogenetic investigations revealed that these S. ixodetis strains do not cluster within a tick-specific subclade but rather exhibit distinct evolutionary origins. In their past, these strains have undergone repeated horizontal transfers between ticks and other arthropods, including aphids and flies. This diversity pattern strongly suggests that maternal inheritance and horizontal transfers are key drivers of S. ixodetis spread, dictating global incidence of infections across tick communities. We do not, however, detect evidence of S. ixodetis-based male-killing since we observed that infections were widely present in both males and females across populations of the African blue tick Rhipicephalus decoloratus.