Host-driven diversification of gall-inducing Acacia thrips and the aridification of Australia
McLeish, Michael John
Chapman, Thomas William
Schwarz, Michael Philip
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Background Insects that feed on plants contribute greatly to the generation of biodiversity. Hypotheses explaining rate increases in phytophagous insect diversification and mechanisms driving speciation in such specialists remain vexing despite considerable attention. The proliferation of plant-feeding insects and their hosts are expected to broadly parallel one another where climate change over geological timescales imposes consequences for the diversification of flora and fauna via habitat modification. This work uses a phylogenetic approach to investigate the premise that the aridification of Australia, and subsequent expansion and modification of arid-adapted host flora, has implications for the diversification of insects that specialise on them. Results Likelihood ratio tests indicated the possibility of hard molecular polytomies within two co-radiating gall-inducing species complexes specialising on the same set of host species. Significant tree asymmetry is indicated at a branch adjacent to an inferred transition to a Plurinerves ancestral host species. Lineage by time diversification plots indicate gall-thrips that specialise on Plurinerves hosts differentially experienced an explosive period of speciation contemporaneous with climatic cycling during the Quaternary period. Chronological analyses indicated that the approximate age of origin of gall-inducing thrips on Acacia might be as recent as 10 million years ago during the Miocene, as truly arid landscapes first developed in Australia. Conclusion Host-plant diversification and spatial heterogeneity of hosts have increased the potential for specialisation, resource partitioning, and unoccupied ecological niche availability for gall-thrips on Australian Acacia.