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Keywords:

  • Coevolution;
  • galls;
  • host shifts;
  • insect-plant relationships;
  • parasitism;
  • phylogeny.

Abstract Gall wasps, or cynipids, form the second largest radiation of galling insects with more than 1300 described species. According to current views, the first cynipids were phytophagous and developed in herb stems of the Asteraceae without modifying plant growth or development. The first galls were supposedly multichambered stem swellings, and subsequent trends involved increase in gall complexity and reduction in the number of larval chambers. Gall wasps also have many of the features believed to be characteristic for phytophagous insects radiating in parallel with their host plants. We tested these hypotheses by mapping characters onto a recent estimate of higher cynipid relationships from a morphology-based analysis of exemplar taxa, controlling for phylogenetic uncertainty using bootstrapping. Characters were also mapped onto a metatree including all gall wasps, assembled from phylogenetic analyses as well as recent classifications. The results contradict many of the current hypotheses. The first cynipids with extant descendants were not Asteraceae stem feeders but induced distinct single-chambered galls in reproductive organs of herbaceous Papaveraceae, or possibly Lamiaceae. There has been a general trend toward more complex galls but the herb-stem feeders evolved from ancestors inducing distinct galls and their larval chambers are best understood as cryptic galls. Woody hosts have been colonized only three times, making the apparently irreversible transition from herbs to woody hosts one of the most conservative features of the gall wasp-host plant association. The evolution of host plant preferences is characterized by colonization of preexisting host-plant lineages rather than by parallel cladogenesis. Cynipids are monoor oligophagous and host-plant choice is strongly phylogenetically conserved. Yet, the few major host shifts have involved remarkably distantly related plants. Many shifts have been onto plant species already exploited by other gall wasps, suggesting that interspecific parasitism among cynipids facilitates colonization of novel host plants.