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Proc Biol Sci. 2006 Mar 7;273(1586):523-30.

Cascading host-associated genetic differentiation in parasitoids of phytophagous insects.

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  • 1Department of Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology, Iowa State University, Ames, IA 50011-1020, USA.


The extraordinary diversity of phytophagous insects may be attributable to their narrow specialization as parasites of plants, with selective tradeoffs associated with alternate host plants driving genetic divergence of host-associated forms via ecological speciation. Most phytophagous insects in turn are attacked by parasitoid insects, which are similarly specialized and may also undergo host-associated differentiation (HAD). A particularly interesting possibility is that HAD by phytophagous insects might lead to HAD in parasitoids, as parasitoids evolve divergent lineages on the new host plant-specific lineages of their phytophagous hosts. We call this process 'cascading host-associated differentiation' (cascading HAD). We tested for cascading HAD in parasitoids of two phytophagous insects, each of which consists of genetically distinct host-associated lineages on the same pair of goldenrods (Solidago). Each parasitoid exhibited significant host-associated genetic divergence, and the distribution and patterns of divergence are consistent with divergence in sympatry. Although evidence for cascading HAD is currently limited, our results suggest that it could play an important role in the diversification of parasitoids attacking phytophagous insects. The existence of cryptic host-associated lineages also suggests that the diversity of parasitoids may be vastly underestimated.

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