Rapid spread of a bacterial symbiont in an invasive whitefly is driven by fitness benefits and female bias.
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.