Characterisation of the bacterial flora associated with the grey field slug Deroceras reticulatum and assessment of its suitability as a target for biological control
Wilkinson, Peter Graham
The field slug Deroceras reticulatum is a major pest in UK agriculture and amidst growing concern and regulatory pressures surrounding chemical molluscicides, innovation is required to advance the current repertoire of slug controls. This study set out to investigate the bacteria associated with D. reticulatum to assess their importance to the slug and potential as a target for biological control. Slug gut bacterial isolates identified using the phenotypical API system (BioMérieux) and 16S rRNA gene sequencing, were mainly soil-dwelling organisms of the phyla Proteobacteria and Bacteriodetes some of which may be important in human or plant disease. A ribosomal intergenic spacer analysis (RISA) was developed to study microbial communities in the slug gut. Slugs had an average species richness of 12 and comparing the bacterial communities in slugs from different locations yielded a mean similarity of 0.159 (Jaccard index) which was significantly lower than similarity indices of slugs collected within a single location (Mean Jaccard index 0.205, p<0.001, ANOVA). Cloning and sequencing of RISA bands common to slugs and slug eggs, but absent from the surrounding soil and plants identified bacteria for future investigation as potential beneficial symbionts. Bacteria extracted from the slug gut were tested for sensitivity to 16 antibiotics and greatest inhibition of growth was observed for chloramphenicol, gentamicin and tetracycline. These antibiotics administered to slugs by feeding and injection caused a reduction in gut-associated bacteria in plate counts, and in bacterial 16S rDNA quantities estimated by real-time quantitative PCR. Field collected D. reticulatum has a large transient gut bacterial population which is reduced upon starvation to a low background level. No significant detrimental effect of antibiotic treatment on the fitness and survival of the slugs was seen, in some instances control slugs suffered greater mortality than slugs that had been injected with antibiotic. Slugs that died during bioassays had a significantly greater amount of bacterial 16S rDNA in their gut than slugs that were sacrificed as healthy individuals suggesting the presence of a bacterial pathogen. This study has found little evidence that a bacterial symbiont may exist and be important for optimal fitness and survival of D. reticulatum, but insight into slug associated bacteria will be valuable in the direction of future studies in this field.