Both large and small scale migrations of Helicoverpa armigera Hübner in Australia were investigated using AMOVA analysis and genetic assignment tests. Five microsatellite loci were screened across 3142 individuals from 16 localities in eight major cotton and grain growing regions within Australia, over a 38-month period (November 1999 to January 2003). From November 1999 to March 2001 relatively low levels of migration were characterized between growing regions. Substantially higher than average gene-flow rates and limited differentiation between cropping regions characterized the period from April 2001 to March 2002. A reduced migration rate in the year from April 2002 to March 2003 resulted in significant genetic structuring between cropping regions. This differentiation was established within two or three generations. Genetic drift alone is unlikely to drive genetic differentiation over such a small number of generations, unless it is accompanied by extreme bottlenecks and/or selection. Helicoverpa armigera in Australia demonstrated isolation by distance, so immigration into cropping regions is more likely to come from nearby regions than from afar. This effect was most pronounced in years with limited migration. However, there is evidence of long distance dispersal events in periods of high migration (April 2001–March 2002). The implications of highly variable migration patterns for resistance management are considered.
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