Conclusions

The large number of symbioses among termite gut flagellates and prokaryotes, the high level of integration evidenced by the elaborate attachment structures or the intracellular location, and the large proportion of the prokaryotic gut microbiota that is associated with the protozoa suggest a major importance of such symbioses for the hindgut metabolism of lower termites.

Molecular tools allow the identification of the phylogeny of the partners involved in the symbioses, and although these investigations are still far from complete, it is apparent that the symbionts represent unusual and mostly unstudied phylogenetic groups. As a consequence of the unusual phylogenetic position and the complete lack of isolates, the metabolic capacities of the symbionts and their role in the symbiosis are still largely obscure.

In order to understand the hindgut metabolisms of lower termites, it will be essential to elucidate the metabolic relationship between the flagellates and their symbionts. It is reasonable to assume that the functional roles of the partners are less diverse than their phylogenetic diversity, and in view of the possible co-evolution of the partners, the symbioses between prokaryotes and gut flagellates are also excellent case studies in the microbial ecology and evolution.

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