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BMC Evol Biol. 2006 Oct 13;6:83.

Deep mtDNA divergences indicate cryptic species in a fig-pollinating wasp.

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  • 1Division of Biology, Imperial College London, Silwood Park Campus, Ascot, Berkshire SL5 7PY, UK.



Figs and fig-pollinating wasps are obligate mutualists that have coevolved for ca. 90 million years. They have radiated together, but do not show strict cospeciation. In particular, it is now clear that many fig species host two wasp species, so there is more wasp speciation than fig speciation. However, little is known about how fig wasps speciate.


We studied variation in 71 fig-pollinating wasps from across the large geographic range of Ficus rubiginosa in Australia. All wasps sampled belong to one morphological species (Pleistodontes imperialis), but we found four deep mtDNA clades that differed from each other by 9-17% nucleotides. As these genetic distances exceed those normally found within species and overlap those (10-26%) found between morphologically distinct Pleistodontes species, they strongly suggest cryptic fig wasp species. mtDNA clade diversity declines from all four present in Northern Queensland to just one in Sydney, near the southern range limit. However, at most sites multiple clades coexist and can be found in the same tree or even the same fig fruit and there is no evidence for parallel sub-division of the host fig species. Both mtDNA data and sequences from two nuclear genes support the monophyly of the "P. imperialis complex" relative to other Pleistodontes species, suggesting that fig wasp divergence has occurred without any host plant shift. Wasps in clade 3 were infected by a single strain (W1) of Wolbachia bacteria, while those in other clades carried a double infection (W2+W3) of two other strains.


Our study indicates that cryptic fig-pollinating wasp species have developed on a single host plant species, without the involvement of host plant shifts, or parallel host plant divergence. Despite extensive evidence for coevolution between figs and fig wasps, wasp speciation may not always be linked strongly with fig speciation.

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