Background: Due to its biogeographic origins and rapid diversification, understanding the tribe Aphidini is key to understanding aphid evolution. Major questions about aphid evolution include origins of host alternation as well as age and patterns of diversification in relation to host plants. To address these questions, we reconstructed the phylogeny of the Aphidini which contains Aphis, the most diverse genus in the family. We used a combined dataset of one nuclear and four mitochondrial DNA regions. A molecular dating approach, calibrated with fossil records, was used to estimate divergence times of these taxa.
Principal findings: Most generic divergences in Aphidini occurred in the Middle Tertiary, and species-level divergences occurred between the Middle and Late Tertiary. The ancestral state of host use for Aphidini was equivocal with respect to three states: monoecy on trees, heteroecy, and monoecy on grasses. The ancestral state of Rhopalosiphina likely included both heteroecy and monoecy, whereas that of Aphidina was most likely monoecy. The divergence times of aphid lineages at the generic or subgeneric levels are close to those of their primary hosts. The species-level divergences in aphids are consistent with the diversification of the secondary hosts, as a few examples suggest. The biogeographic origin of Aphidini as a whole was equivocal, but the major lineages within Aphidina likely separated into Nearctic, Western Palearctic, and Eastern Palearctic regions.
Conclusions: Most generic divergences in Aphidini occurred in the Middle Tertiary when primary hosts, mainly in the Rosaceae, were diverging, whereas species-level divergences were contemporaneous with diversification of the secondary hosts such as Poaceae in the Middle to Late Tertiary. Our results suggest that evolution of host alternation within Aphidini may have occurred during the Middle Tertiary (Oligocene) when the secondary hosts emerged.