, Volume 36, Issue 3, pp 165-176

Adaptation in the Asexual False Spider Mite Brevipalpus phoenicis: Evidence for Frozen Niche Variation

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Because asexual species lack recombination, they have little opportunity to produce genetically variable offspring and cannot adapt to changes in their environment. However, a number of asexual species are very successful and appear to contradict this general view. One such species is the phytophagous mite Brevipalpus phoenicis (Geijskes), a species that is found in a wide range of environments. There are two general explanations for this pattern, the General Purpose Genotype (GPG) and Frozen Niche Variation (FNV). According to the GPG model, an asexual species consists of clones that can all survive and reproduce in all the different niches. Alternatively, the FNV model postulates that different clones are specialized to different niches. We have performed a test to distinguish between these models in B. phoenicis. Mites from three populations from three different host plant species (citrus, hibiscus and acerola) were transplanted to their own and the two alternative host plants and mite survival and egg production were measured. Additionally, the mite populations were genotyped using microsatellites. Fitness was seriously reduced when mites were transplanted to the alternative host plant species, except when the alternative host was acerola. We concluded that B. phoenicis clones are specialized to different niches and thus the FNV best describes the broad ecological niche of this species but that there is also some evidence for host plant generalization. This conclusion was strengthened by the observations that on each host plant species the native mite population performed better than the introduced ones, and that three microsatellite markers showed that the mite populations are genetically distinct.