The evolution of host plant manipulation by insects: Molecular and ecological evidence from gall-forming aphids on Pistacia

M. Inbar, M. Wink, D. Wool

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


One of the most striking characteristics of gall-forming insects is the variability in gall position, morphology, and complexity. Our knowledge of the driving forces behind the evolutionary divergence of gall types is limited. Natural enemies, competition, and behavioral constraints might be involved. We present a cladogram, based on sequences of COI and COII (1952bp), of mitochondrial DNA for the evolution of 14 species of gall-forming aphids (Fordinae). These insects induce five gall types with remarkable morphological variation on Pistacia spp. hosts. The parsimony cladogram divides the Fordinae into three lineages, Fordini and Baizongiini, and a third (new) sister group including the previously Fordini member, Smynthurodes betae (West). We then use ecological data to trace and explain the evolution of gall morphology. The aphids seem to have evolved gradually towards better ability to manipulate their host plant, induce stronger sinks, and gain higher reproductive success. We suggest that the ancestral gall type was a simple, open, "pea"-sized gall located on the leaflet midvein. Some Fordini and S. betae evolved a two-gall life cycle, inducing a new gall type on the leaflet margin. The Baizongiini improved the manipulation of their host by inducing larger galls near the midvein, with stronger sinks supporting thousands of aphids. Similar gall types are induced at similar sites on different Pistacia hosts suggesting control of the aphids on gall morphology and frequent host shifts. Thus, even extreme specialization (specific gall and host) is flexible.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)504-511
Number of pages8
JournalMolecular Phylogenetics and Evolution
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 2004


  • Extreme specialization
  • Gradual adaptation
  • Herbivore phylogeny
  • Host shifts
  • Molecular phylogeny

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology


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