Rampant Host and Defensive Phenotype Associated Diversification in a Goldenrod Gall Midge

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Natural selection can play an important role in the genetic divergence of populations and their subsequent speciation. Such adaptive diversification, or ecological speciation, might underlie the enormous diversity of plant-feeding insects that frequently experience strong selection pressures associated with host plant use as well as from natural enemies. This view is supported by increasing documentation of host-associated (genetic) differentiation in populations of plant-feeding insects using alternate hosts. Here, we examine evolutionary diversification in a single nominal taxon, the gall midge Asteromyia carbonifera (O.S.), with respect to host plant use and gall phenotype. Because galls can be viewed as extended defensive phenotypes of the midges, gall morphology is likely to be a reflection of selective pressures by enemies. Using phylogenetic and comparative analyses of mtDNA and nuclear sequence data, we find evidence that A. carbonifera populations are rapidly diversifying along host plant and gall morphological lines. At a broad scale, geography explains surprisingly little genetic variation, and there is little evidence of strict co-cladogenesis with their Solidago hosts. Gall morphology is relatively labile, distinct gall morphs have evolved repeatedly and colonized multiple hosts, and multiple genetically and morphologically distinct morphs frequently coexist on a single host plant species. These results suggest that Asteromyia carbonifera is in the midst of an adaptive radiation driven by multitrophic selective pressures. Similar complex community pressures are likely to play a role in the diversification of other herbivorous insect groups.