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Geographic patterns of genetic diversity from the native range of Cactoblastis cactorum (Berg) support the documented history of invasion and multiple introductions for invasive populations


Spread of the invasive cactus-feeding moth Cactoblastis cactorum has been well documented since its export from Argentina to Australia as a biocontrol agent, and records suggest that all non-native populations are derived from a single collection in the moth’s native range. The subsequent global spread of the moth has been complex, and previous research has suggested multiple introductions into North America. There exists the possibility of additional emigrations from the native range in nursery stock during the late twentieth century. Here, we present mitochondrial gene sequence data (COI) from South America (native range) and North America (invasive range) to test the hypothesis that the rapid invasive spread in North America is enhanced by unique genetic combinations from isolated portions of the native range. We found that haplotype richness in the native range of C. cactorum is high and that there was 90% lower richness in Florida than in Argentina. All Florida C. cactorum haplotypes are represented in a single, well-defined clade, which includes collections from the reported region of original export from Argentina. Thus, our data are consistent with the documented history suggesting a single exportation of C. cactorum from the eastern region of the native range. Additionally, the presence of geographic structure in three distinct haplotypes within the same clade across Florida supports the hypothesis of multiple introductions into Florida from a location outside the native range. Because the common haplotypes in Florida are also known to occur in the neighboring Caribbean Islands, the islands are a likely source for independent North American colonization events. Our data show that rapid and successful invasion within North America cannot be attributed to unique genetic combinations. This suggests that successful invasion of the southeastern US is more likely the product of a fortuitous introduction into favorable abiotic conditions and/or defense responses of specific Opuntia hosts, rapid adaptation, or a release from native enemies.

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This work was supported in part by grants from the U.S. Geological Survey Biological Resources Discipline (04HQAG0135 and 08HQAG0139) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (2007-55320-17847) to GNE. Additional funds were provided by the Mississippi State University Office of Research and Economic Development and the College of Arts and Sciences. We also thank Guillermo Logarzo and Laura Varone (USDA South American Biological Control Laboratory, Buenos Aires), James Carpenter (USDA-ARS Crop Protection and Management Research Unit, Tifton, GA), Stephen Hight (USDA-ARS Insect Behavior and Biocontrol Research Unit, Gainesville, FL), Kristen Sauby, and Anastasia Woodard for assistance with sample collection. We are grateful to Richard Brown (Mississippi Entomological Museum) who assisted in the identification of some samples. We thank three anonymous reviewers for their comments that improved the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Travis D. Marsico.

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Marsico, T.D., Wallace, L.E., Ervin, G.N. et al. Geographic patterns of genetic diversity from the native range of Cactoblastis cactorum (Berg) support the documented history of invasion and multiple introductions for invasive populations. Biol Invasions 13, 857–868 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10530-010-9874-9

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  • Argentina
  • Cactus moth
  • Cactoblastis cactorum
  • Genetic paradox
  • Opuntia
  • Phylogeography