African parasitoid fig wasp diversification is a function of Ficus species ranges

McLeish M.J. ; Noort S.V. ; Tolley K.A. (2010)


Host specificity is a fundamental property implicit in obligate insect-plant associations. Rigid life history constraints exhibited by parasitoid fig wasps are believed to select for specialization directed at fig trees and this is supported by evidence of phenotypic adaptation to figs and partial co-speciation with the fig wasps they attack. Conversely, the ability to colonize such novel communities occurs under relaxed specificity, a behavior typified by more generalist groups such as parasitoids. The specificity directed towards Ficus species by Sycoryctinae parasitoid fig wasps is important in order to understand how this form of specialization influences their diversification and interactions with other fig wasp guilds. We use genetic distance analyses and reconstruct ancestral patterns of Ficus trait association with two genera of Sycoryctinae parasitoid fig wasps to identify evolutionary conservatism in Ficus species utilization. Ancestral state reconstructions of (i) affiliate Ficus subsection and (ii) syconia diameters of natal Ficus species indicate contrasting Ficus species ranges between Arachonia and Sycoryctes parasitoid genera. This work demonstrates that parasitoid speciation is not tightly constrained to Ficus speciation and rather a function of Ficus range limitations. Ficus evolution, ecology, and functional compatibility between parasitoid and Ficus traits appear to constrain parasitoid Ficus utilization. These results suggest that contrasting ecological settings and potential number of hosts available impose different ramifications for the evolution of parasitoid host specificity and so to the species interactions within the communities to which they belong. © 2010 Elsevier Inc.

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