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Mol Ecol. 2011 Nov;20(22):4772-85. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-294X.2011.05204.x. Epub 2011 Jul 21.

Levels of clonal mixing in the black bean aphid Aphis fabae, a facultative ant mutualist.

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  • 1Laboratory of Entomology, Zoological Institute, Catholic University of Leuven, Naamsestraat 59, B-3000 Leuven, Belgium.


Aphids are a worldwide pest and an important model in ecology and evolution. Little is known, however, about the genetic structure of their colonies at a microgeographic level. For example, it remains largely unknown whether most species form monoclonal or polyclonal colonies. Here, we present the first detailed study on levels of clonal mixing in a nonsocial facultative ant mutualist, the black bean aphid Aphis fabae. In contrast to the earlier suggestion that colonies of this species are generally monoclonal, we found that across two subspecies of the black bean aphid, A. fabae cirsiiacanthoidis and A. fabae fabae, 32% and 67% of the aphid colonies were in fact polyclonal, consisting of a mix of up to four different clones, which resulted in an overall average relatedness within colonies of 0.90 and 0.79 in the two subspecies. Data further show that the average relatedness in A. f. cirsiiacanthoidis remained relatively constant throughout the season, which means that clonal erosion due to clonal selection more or less balanced with the influx of new clones from elsewhere. Nevertheless, relatedness tended to decrease over the lifetime of a given colony, implying that clonal mixing primarily resulted from the joining of pre-existing colonies as opposed to via simultaneous host colonisation by several foundresses. Widespread clonal mixing is argued to affect the ecology and evolution of the aphids in various important ways, for example with respect to the costs and benefits of group living, the evolution of dispersal and the interaction with predators as well as with the ant mutualists.

© 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

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