The stability of traits important for biological control was studied in the entomopathogenic nematode-bacteria complexes Heterorhabditis bacteriophora and Steinernema carpocapsae. Five experimental lines of each species were subcultured for 20 serial passages in Galleria mellonella larvae to assess trait stability. Subculturing impaired performance of both H. bacteriophora and S. carpocapsae. Virulence, heat tolerance and fecundity deteriorated in all H. bacteriophora experimental lines, and four out of five experimental lines deteriorated in host-finding ability. All S. carpocapsae experimental lines deteriorated in heat tolerance and nictation, and four out of five experimental lines declined for reproductive capacity, whereas virulence declined in two experimental lines. Determination of whether trait deterioration was due to changes in nematode, bacteria, or both symbiotic partners was tested by exchanging nematodes or bacteria from control populations with nematodes or bacteria from the most deteriorated experimental lines and assessing trait recovery. The source of deterioration varied according to trait, but only the bacterial partner played a role in trait reductions for every trait and species, whereas the nematode was the main source only for S. carpocapsae nictation. These results emphasise the important role each symbiotic partner plays in the stability and expression of beneficial traits.
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