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Partitioning of herbivore hosts across time and food plants promotes diversification in the Megastigmus dorsalis oak gall parasitoid complex

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    Rights statement: This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. © 2017 The Authors. Ecology and Evolution published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1300-1315
Number of pages16
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 25 Dec 2017


Communities of insect herbivores and their natural enemies are rich and ecologically crucial components of terrestrial biodiversity. Understanding the processes that promote their origin and maintenance is thus of considerable interest. One major proposed mechanism is ecological speciation through host-associated differentiation (HAD), the divergence of a polyphagous species first into ecological host races and eventually into more specialized daughter species. The rich chalcid parasitoid communities attacking cynipid oak gall wasp hosts are structured by multiple host traits, including food plant taxon, host gall phenology, and gall structure. Here, we ask whether the same traits structure genetic diversity within supposedly generalist parasitoid morphospecies. We use mitochondrial DNA sequences and microsatellite genotypes to quantify HAD for Megastigmus (Bootanomyia) dorsalis, a complex of two apparently generalist cryptic parasitoid species attacking oak galls. Ancient Balkan refugial populations showed phenological separation between the cryptic species, one primarily attacking spring galls, and the other mainly attacking autumn galls. The spring species also contained host races specializing on galls developing on different host-plant lineages (sections Cerris vs. Quercus) within the oak genus Quercus. These results indicate more significant host-associated structuring within oak gall parasitoid communities than previously thought and support ecological theory predicting the evolution of specialist lineages within generalist parasitoids. In contrast, UK populations of the autumn cryptic species associated with both native and recently invading oak gall wasps showed no evidence of population differentiation, implying rapid recruitment of native parasitoid populations onto invading hosts, and hence potential for natural biological control. This is of significance given recent rapid range expansion of the economically damaging chestnut gall wasp, Dryocosmus kuriphilus, in Europe.

    Research areas

  • Community evolution, Cynipidae, Ecological speciation, Host race, Megastigmus dorsalis, Specialization

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