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UNLABELLED: Symbiosis can benefit hosts in numerous ways, but less is known about whether interactions with hosts benefit symbionts-the smaller species in the relationship. To determine the fitness impact of host association on symbionts in likely mutualisms, we conducted a meta-analysis across 91 unique host-symbiont pairings under a range of spatial and temporal contexts. Specifically, we assess the consequences to symbiont fitness when in and out of symbiosis, as well as when the symbiosis is under suboptimal or varying environments and biological conditions (e.g., host age). We find that some intracellular symbionts associated with protists tend to have greater fitness when the symbiosis is under stressful conditions. Symbionts of plants and animals did not exhibit this trend, suggesting that symbionts of multicellular hosts are more robust to perturbations. Symbiont fitness also generally increased with host age. Lastly, we show that symbionts able to proliferate in- and outside host cells exhibit greater fitness than those found exclusively inside or outside cells. The ability to grow in multiple locations may thus help symbionts thrive. We discuss these fitness patterns in light of host-driven factors, whereby hosts exert influence over symbionts to suit their own needs. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The online version contains supplementary material available at 10.1007/s13199-024-00984-6.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





439 - 451


Benefits, Environmental stress, Exploitation, Host-symbiont interactions, Microbial regulation, Symbiosis