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Phytophagous insects frequently use multiple host-plant species leading to the evolution of specialized host-adapted populations and sometimes eventually to speciation. Some insects are confronted with a large number of host-plant species, which may provide complex routes of gene flow between host-adapted populations. The pea aphid (Acyrthosiphon pisum) attacks a broad range of plants in the Fabaceae and it is known that populations on Trifolium pratense and Medicago sativa can be highly specialized at exploiting these species. To find out whether adaptation to a broad range of co-occurring hosts has occurred, we tested the performance of pea aphid clones collected from eight host-plant genera on all of these plants in a reciprocal transfer experiment. We provide evidence for pervasive host-plant specialization. The high performance of all aphid clones on Vicia faba suggests that this host plant could be a site of gene flow between different populations that could limit further host-associated divergence. The genetic variance in host-plant usage was partitioned into within- and among-population components, which represent different levels of host adaptation. Little evidence of within-population trade-offs in performance on different plant species was found.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





2508 - 2524


Adaptation, Physiological, Animals, Aphids, England, Environment, Gene Flow, Genetic Speciation, Genotype, Plants