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The Lepidoptera is one of the most widespread and recognisable insect orders. Due to their remarkable diversity, economic and ecological importance, moths and butterflies have been studied extensively over the last 200 years. More recently, the relationship between Lepidoptera and their heritable microbial endosymbionts has received increasing attention. Heritable endosymbionts reside within the host’s body and are often, but not exclusively, inherited through the female line. Advancements in molecular genetics have revealed that host-associated microbes are both extremely prevalent among arthropods and highly diverse. Furthermore, heritable endosymbionts have been repeatedly demonstrated to play an integral role in many aspects of host biology, particularly host reproduction. Here, we review the major findings of research of heritable microbial endosymbionts of butterflies and moths. We promote the Lepidoptera as important models in the study of reproductive manipulations employed by heritable endosymbionts, with the mechanisms underlying male-killing and feminisation currently being elucidated in both moths and butterflies. We also reveal that the vast majority of research undertaken of Lepidopteran endosymbionts concerns Wolbachia. While this highly prevalent bacteria is undoubtedly important, studies should move towards investigating the presence of other, and interacting endosymbionts, and we discuss the merits of examining the microbiome of Lepidoptera to this end. We finally consider the importance of understanding the influence of endosymbionts under global environmental change and when planning conservation management of endangered Lepidoptera species.
This is a submission to PeerJ for review.
Butterfly species infected with heritable microbial endosymbionts