Background: Biological invasions provide a window on the process of community assembly. In particular, tracking natural enemy recruitment to invading hosts can reveal the relative roles of co-evolution (including local adaptation) and ecological sorting. We use molecular data to examine colonisation of northern Europe by the parasitoid Megastigmus stigmatizans following invasions of its herbivorous oak gallwasp hosts from the Balkans. Local host adaptation predicts that invading gallwasp populations will have been tracked primarily by sympatric Balkan populations of M. stigmatizans (Host Pursuit Hypothesis). Alternatively, ecological sorting allows parasitoid recruitment from geographically distinct populations with no recent experience of the invading hosts (Host Shift Hypothesis). Finally, we test for long-term persistence of parasitoids introduced via human trade of their hosts' galls (Introduction Hypothesis).
Results: Polymorphism diagnostic of different southern refugial regions was present in both mitochondrial and nuclear microsatellite markers, allowing us to identify the origins of northern European invaded range M. stigmatizans populations. As with their hosts, some invaded range populations showed genetic variation diagnostic of Balkan sources, supporting the Host Pursuit Hypothesis. In contrast, other invading populations had an Iberian origin, unlike their hosts in northern Europe, supporting the Host Shift Hypothesis. Finally, both British and Italian M. stigmatizans populations show signatures compatible with the Introduction Hypothesis from eastern Mediterranean sources.
Conclusions: These data reveal the continental scale of multi-trophic impacts of anthropogenic disturbance and highlight the fact that herbivores and their natural enemies may face very different constraints on range expansion. The ability of natural enemies to exploit ecologically-similar hosts with which they have had no historical association supports a major role for ecological sorting processes in the recent assembly of these communities. The multitude of origins of invading natural enemy populations in this study emphasises the diversity of mechanisms requiring consideration when predicting consequences of other biological invasions or biological control introductions.