Alien invasive species pose increasing ecological challenges with escalating globalization (Mack et al., 2000; Wardle et al., 2011; Hill et al., 2016). They threaten biodiversity, jeopardize endangered species, and deform extent biogeochemical cycles in non-native regions (Kenis et al., 2009). Understanding species invasiveness is one of major challenges long facing researchers in invasion biology. Given the ubiquitous associations between insects and microbial symbionts, the co-introduction of microbial associates by invasive insects may be quite common (Garnas et al., 2016). The microbiome can influence exotic animal species in broad aspects, ranging from life history traits, defenses against natural enemies, and tolerance to abiotic stresses (Oliver et al. 2003; Duron et al. 2008; Dunbar et al. 2007; Douglas, 2018). The enhancement of any aspect may contribute to the successful invasion of alien species (Floate et al., 2006; Desneux et al., 2009; Gibson and Hunter, 2010; Zindel et al., 2011; Mason and Raffa, 2014; Lu et al., 2016; Amsellem et al., 2017). For example, an endosymbiotic Rickettsia bacterium enhances the invasion of the tobacco whitefly Bemisia tabaci) (Himler et al., 2011); symbiotic bacterial community inside galleries of the red turpentine beetle Dendroctonus valens increases the host’s overall fitness and facilitates its invasion (Cheng et al., 2018). To explain how mutualism facilitates the invasion of introduced species, several alternative hypotheses have been framed (Klock et al. 2015). The enhanced mutualism hypothesis suggests that introduced species become invasive with the aid of forming novel effective mutualism in non-native ranges (Richardson et al., 2000); the accompanying mutualist hypothesis posits that introduced species are facilitated during the invasion by mutualistic symbionts concurrent with introductions from their native ranges (Rodriguez-Echeverria, 2010); the Generalist Host Hypothesis predicts that introduced species are generalists in terms of association with mutualists and thus less constrained by absence of specific partners (Parker, 2001). These hypotheses gain more support from invasive plants than from invasive invertebrate animals.
Harmonia axyridis (Coleoptera: Coccinellidae) is widely appreciated as an effective predator suppressing pest aphid populations in its native range Asia (Seo and Youn 2002, Ali et al., 2016). Due to its potential in biological pest control, it was introduced into North America and then from there to Europe; it has spread far and wide in exotic continents, causing mounting concerns for its potential roles in the decline of endemic lady beetle populations (Koch 2003, Majerus et al., 2006, Brown et al., 2008, 2011; van Lenteren 2012, Sloggett et al., 2012; Roy et al., 2016). Understanding the invasiveness of H. axyridis has become a daunting challenge for the students in invasion biology (Roy et al., 2016; Li et al., 2021b). Lady beetles harbor rich and diverse microbial symbionts (Weinert et al., 2007). Laboratory studies have found that some symbionts are influential on H. axyridis fitness such as chemical defenses (Schmidtberg et al. 2018) and body size (Elnagdy et al. 2013). To examine the role of microorganisms in the invasion of H. axyridis, a laboratory study suggests that pathogenic microspores carried by invasive H. axyridis can be exploited as leverage in competition with endemic lady beetles (Vilcinskas et al., 2013). Preliminary investigations of the prevalence of common maternally-inherited bacteria inhabiting H. axyridis in the native and non-native range found sporadic infections across the ranges (Nakamura et al., 2015; Goryacheva et al. 2017; Haelewaters et al., 2017; Li et al., 2021a), which imply that these bacteria are less influential on the invasion success of H. axyridis. An examination of gut microbiome of six species of predatory lady beetles found that host origin (native vs exotic) is influential (Tiede et al. 2017). Though the microbial community of H. axyridis from one non-native locality in Poland has been examined (Dudek, et al., 2017), a comparison of microbial communities between host’s native and non-native ranges can improve our understanding of potential roles of microbial communities in the invasion of H. axyridis.
Previous studies suggest that only two of multiple introductions of H. axyridis from Asia into North America were successful (Lombaert et al., 2010). The limited number of introduced individuals are likely infected with only a subset of all possible microorganisms from the native range source population (Blackburn and Ewen, 2017). In addition, in coping with environmental disturbances in exotic regions some microorganisms may be lost due to broken life cycles (MacLeod et al., 2010). Yet, the loss of some species of microbial symbionts can have ecological and evolutionary consequences for the host species during the invasion (Amsellem et al., 2017). Taking these processes into consideration, we hypothesized that the microbiota of H. axyridis in the non-native range may have a lower diversity than those in the native range. It is generally held that the composition of microbiota is not a stand-still but can vary with novel environments their hosts invaded (Richardson et al., 2000; Kloch et al., 2015). For invasive species, their expanding ranges create new opportunities for horizontal acquisition of new symbionts from native species (Amsellem et asl., 2017). A study found that local habitat affects the gut microbiota of H. axyridis (Tiede et al., 2017). So, we hypothesized that the microbiota of H. axyridis in non-native regions may be restructured in composition and thus not similar with that in native regions. To test these two hypotheses, we compared microbial community in H. axyridis collected from 11 geographical areas covering wide climatic zones across mainland China and 7 across the United States of America. We compare diversity and composition of the microbiota inhabiting H. axyridis between its native and non-native ranges.