Quantitative genetics of feeding behavior in two ecological races of the pea aphid, Acyrthosiphon pisum

M. C. Caillaud, Ithaca College
S. Via, University of Maryland, College Park (UMD)


Much of the diversity of herbivorous insects stems from the adaptive divergence of populations onto different host plants. This often involves the evolution of specialized patterns of host acceptance that in turn lead to assortative mating for insects that mate exclusively on their hosts. Here, we explore the genetic architecture of feeding behavior in a herbivorous insect that has become a model for the study of incipient speciation, the pea aphid (Acyrthosiphon pisum). We use crosses between individuals specialized to either alfalfa or red clover in order to perform both a biometrical analysis and a quantitative trait locus (QTL) analysis of key feeding behaviors. For each character in each environment, Castle-Wright's estimator for the number of effective factors segregating ranged from 0.11 to 2.54. Similarly, between 0 and 3 QTLs were detected. In one case, a single QTL explained over 50% of the variance in the F2, suggesting that at least one gene (or a complex of tightly linked genes) has a major effect on feeding behavior in the pea aphid. However, the identified QTL explain only 23-73% of the genetic variance for these characters thus additional genes of minor effect are also involved. We found a variety of modes of gene action, including several cases of non-additive gene action. Our results suggest that feeding behavior in pea aphids is neither simple nor highly polygenic. The oligogenetic basis of variation in feeding behavior may facilitate host shifts, providing one explanation for the frequent divergence and speciation of herbivorous insects. © 2012 Macmillan Publishers Limited All rights reserved.