• Aphid;
  • EPG;
  • host races;
  • local adaptation;
  • feeding behaviour


Host specialization plays a central role in the diversification of herbivorous insects and yet we know very little about the evolution of this trait. Populations of the pea aphid, Acyrthosiphon pisum (Harris), are specialized and locally adapted to either alfalfa or clover. Preference for either plant produces assortative mating, and gene flow between alfalfa and clover populations is consistently restricted (Via, 1991a,b, 1994). Behavioural studies of freely-moving aphids on the plant surface for 30 min suggest that host preference is chemically mediated, involves chemoreception, and is most likely due to secondary compounds located in the epidermal or mesophyll cells. Pea aphids do not distinguish between hosts and non-hosts at a distance but determine whether the plant is suitable or not after only a short probe. Thirty-minute recordings of the activities of aphid stylets using an electrical monitoring system (EPG), where aphids are attached to a gold wire with silver paint, provide a different picture, suggesting that EPG experiments do not accurately reflect natural behaviour during the first 30 min of the aphid-plant interaction.