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Elucidation of the genetic variability of a model insect species, the grain aphid, Sitobion avenae (Fabricius), a predominantly asexual herbivore within the temperate agro-ecosystem tested, was initiated using molecular DNA markers (RAPDs). This revealed genetic profiles that appeared related to host adaptation at the specific level amongst the natural populations colonizing different grasses and cereals (Poaceae) within the same geographic location. These profiles were recorded either as ‘specialist’genotypes found on specific grasses, or as ‘generalist’ genotypes colonizing several host types including cultivated cereals or native grasses. These findings are compared with analogous systems found amongst insect species, including at a higher trophic level, i.e. interactions between hymenopterous aphid parasitoids. As the aphids and their respective plant hosts occur in the same geographical region at the same time, this appears to be a rare example of the evolutionary transition leading to sympatric speciation in insects. Hence, this study highlights the importance of understanding not only the demographic parameters to genetic diversity, but also the more intricate correlation of genetic diversity to host types in agricultural environments.
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