Maternally inherited bacterial symbionts of arthropods are common, yet symbiont invasions of host populations have rarely been observed. Here, we show that Rickettsia sp. nr. bellii swept into a population of an invasive agricultural pest, the sweet potato whitefly, Bemisia tabaci, in just 6 years. Compared with uninfected whiteflies, Rickettsia-infected whiteflies produced more offspring, had higher survival to adulthood, developed faster, and produced a higher proportion of daughters. The symbiont thus functions as both mutualist and reproductive manipulator. The observed increased performance and sex-ratio bias of infected whiteflies are sufficient to explain the spread of Rickettsia across the southwestern United States. Symbiont invasions such as this represent a sudden evolutionary shift for the host, with potentially large impacts on its ecology and invasiveness.
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