Climate effects on life cycle variation and population genetic architecture of the black bean aphid, Aphis fabae

Mol Ecol. 2011 Oct;20(19):4165-81. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-294X.2011.05242.x. Epub 2011 Aug 29.


Aphid species may exhibit different reproductive modes ranging from cyclical to obligate parthenogenesis. The distribution of life cycle variation in aphids is generally determined by ecological forces, mainly climate, because only sexually produced diapausing eggs can survive harsh winters or periods of absence of suitable host plants. Aphids are thus interesting models to investigate intrinsic and environmental factors shaping the competition among sexual and asexual lineages. We conducted a Europe-wide sampling of black bean aphids, Aphis fabae, and combined population genetic analyses based on microsatellite data with an experimental determination of life cycle strategies. Aphids were collected from broad beans (Vicia faba) as well as some Chenopodiaceae, but we detected no genetic differentiation between aphids from different host plants. Consistent with model predictions, life cycle variation was related to climate, with aphids from areas with cold winters investing more in sexual reproduction than aphids from areas with mild winters. Accordingly, only populations from mild areas exhibited a clear genetic signature of clonal reproduction. These differences arise despite substantial gene flow over large distances, which was evident from a very low geographic population structure and a lack of isolation-by-distance among 18 sites across distances of more than 1000 km. There was virtually no genetic differentiation between aphids with different reproductive modes, suggesting that new asexual lineages are formed continuously. Indeed, a surprising number of A. fabae genotypes even from colder climates produced some parthenogenetic offspring under simulated winter conditions. From this we predict that a shift to predominantly asexual reproduction could take place rapidly under climate warming.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Aphids / genetics*
  • Aphids / growth & development
  • Aphids / physiology
  • Bayes Theorem
  • Climate
  • Europe
  • Female
  • Gene Flow
  • Genetic Variation
  • Genotype
  • Life Cycle Stages
  • Male
  • Microsatellite Repeats
  • Models, Biological
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal
  • Vicia faba