Symbiotic flagellates are found exclusively in the phylogenetically lower termites and the closely related cockroaches of the genus Cryptocercus; the higher termites harbor a largely prokaryotic microbiota. The first studies that revealed the beneficial nature of these peculiar symbionts - discovered in 1856 by Lespes (see Leidy 1881) and initially considered as parasites - were reported by Cleveland (1925, 1926), who demonstrated that termites do not survive for long after elimination of their gut flagellates. The importance of the symbionts for their termite host is impressively documented by their enormous abundance in the enlarged hindgut paunch; it has been estimated that the fresh weight of the protozoa may account for more than one half of the fresh weight of the termite (Katzin and Kirby 1939). Phylogenetically, the gut flagellates are extremely diverse: almost 450 distinct species have been described to occur within the approx. 200 termite species investigated (Yamin 1979).
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