The red palm weevil (RPW) Rhynchophorus ferrugineus Olivier (Coleoptera: Curculionidae) is one of the major pests of palms. The larvae bore into the palm trunk and feed on the palm tender tissues and sap, leading the host tree to death. The gut microbiota of insects plays a remarkable role in the host life and understanding the relationship dynamics between insects and their microbiota may improve the biological control of insect pests. The purpose of this study was to analyse the diversity of the gut microbiota of field-caught RPW larvae sampled in Sicily (Italy).
The 16S rRNA gene-based Temporal Thermal Gradient Gel Electrophoresis (TTGE) of the gut microbiota of RPW field-trapped larvae revealed low bacterial diversity and stability of the community over seasons and among pools of larvae from different host trees. Pyrosequencing of the 16S rRNA gene V3 region confirmed low complexity and assigned 98% of the 75,564 reads to only three phyla: Proteobacteria (64.7%) Bacteroidetes (23.6%) and Firmicutes (9.6%) and three main families [Enterobacteriaceae (61.5%), Porphyromonadaceae (22.1%) and Streptococcaceae (8.9%)]. More than half of the reads could be classified at the genus level and eight bacterial genera were detected in the larval RPW gut at an abundance ≥1%: Dysgonomonas (21.8%), Lactococcus (8.9%), Salmonella (6.8%), Enterobacter (3.8%), Budvicia (2.8%), Entomoplasma (1.4%), Bacteroides (1.3%) and Comamonas (1%). High abundance of Enterobacteriaceae was also detected by culturing under aerobic conditions. Unexpectedly, acetic acid bacteria (AAB), that are known to establish symbiotic associations with insects relying on sugar-based diets, were not detected.
The RPW gut microbiota is composed mainly of facultative and obligate anaerobic bacteria with a fermentative metabolism. These bacteria are supposedly responsible for palm tissue fermentation in the tunnels where RPW larvae thrive and might have a key role in the insect nutrition, and other functions that need to be investigated.