Using host‐associated differentiation to track source population and dispersal distance among insect vectors of plant pathogens
Angelella, Gina M.
Michel, Andy P.
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Small, mobile insects are notoriously challenging to track across landscapes and manage in agricultural fields. However, genetic differentiation among insect populations and host plants acquired through host‐associated differentiation could be exploited to infer movement within crop systems and damage potential. Although many insects exhibit host‐associated differentiation, management strategies for insect vectors of plant pathogens assume a homogenous population. Nevertheless, phenotypic changes derived from host‐associated differentiation could manifest in altered behavior or physiology affecting the likelihood of vector–pathogen–plant interactions, or the subsequent efficiency of pathogen transmission. We used SNPs to assess genotypic structure and host‐associated differentiation in the cowpea aphid, Aphis craccivora Koch (Hemiptera: Aphididae). To do so, we sampled A. craccivora across the Midwestern United States. from two host plants, alfalfa (Medicago sativa) and black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia)—putative source populations for winged migrants. Simultaneously, we sampled winged A. craccivora landing in pumpkin fields where they transmit viruses. Structure analyses supported host‐associated differentiation by identifying two major genotypic groups: an alfalfa group containing a single multilocus genotype and a locust group containing all others. Winged locust‐group aphids landed at a much greater magnitude within focal fields during year 2 than year 1, while those in the alfalfa group remained fairly consistent. Spatial autocorrelation analyses indicated locust‐group aphid movement was characterized by small‐scale dispersal during year 2, likely originating from populations within 10 km. We also detected strong temporal differences in colonization from the two host plants. Early in the summer, most winged aphids (79.4%) derived from the locust group, whereas late in the summer more (58.3%) were from the alfalfa group. Because early crop growth stages are more susceptible to damage from aphid‐vectored viruses, these data implicate locust as the more important source and illustrate how host‐associated differentiation can be used to track dispersal and inform management of heterogeneous pest populations.