The roles of geography and founder effects in promoting host-associated differentiation in the generalist bogus yucca moth Prodoxus decipiens

C. T. Darwell, K. A. Fox, D. M. Althoff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


There is ample evidence that host shifts in plant-feeding insects have been instrumental in generating the enormous diversity of insects. Changes in host use can cause host-associated differentiation (HAD) among populations that may lead to reproductive isolation and eventual speciation. The importance of geography in facilitating this process remains controversial. We examined the geographic context of HAD in the wide-ranging generalist yucca moth Prodoxus decipiens. Previous work demonstrated HAD among sympatric moth populations feeding on two different Yucca species occurring on the barrier islands of North Carolina, USA. We assessed the genetic structure of P. decipiens across its entire geographic and host range to determine whether HAD is widespread in this generalist herbivore. Population genetic analyses of microsatellite and mtDNA sequence data across the entire range showed genetic structuring with respect to host use and geography. In particular, genetic differentiation was relatively strong between mainland populations and those on the barrier islands of North Carolina. Finer scale analyses, however, among sympatric populations using different host plant species only showed significant clustering based on host use for populations on the barrier islands. Mainland populations did not form population clusters based on host plant use. Reduced genetic diversity in the barrier island populations, especially on the derived host, suggests that founder effects may have been instrumental in facilitating HAD. In general, results suggest that the interplay of local adaptation, geography and demography can determine the tempo of HAD. We argue that future studies should include comprehensive surveys across a wide range of environmental and geographic conditions to elucidate the contribution of various processes to HAD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2706-2718
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Evolutionary Biology
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1 2014


  • Geographic structure
  • Herbivorous insect
  • Host forms
  • Host use
  • Population differentiation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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