The macrogeographic population structure of the agricultural pest Bactrocera cucurbitae (Diptera: Tephritidae) was investigated in order to identify the geographic origin of the species and reconstruct its range expansion. Individuals of B. cucurbitae were collected from 25 worldwide-distributed localities (n = 570) and genotyped at 13 microsatellite loci. The Bayesian clustering reveals that B. cucurbitae can be subdivided into five main groups corresponding to populations from (i) the African continent, (ii) La Réunion, (iii) Central Asia, (iv) East Asia and (v) Hawaii. The proportions of inter-regional assignments and the higher values of genetic diversity in populations from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh suggest that B. cucurbitae originated in Central Asia and expanded its range to East Asia and Hawaii on one hand and to Africa and the islands of the Indian Ocean on the other. A number of outliers (10–19 specimens according to different clustering algorithms) show high levels of admixture (Q > 0.70) with populations from different regions and reveal complex patterns of inter-regional gene flow. Anthropogenic transport is the most plausible promoter of this large-scale dispersal. The introduction of individuals from geographically distant sources did not have a relevant role in the most recent African invasions, which originated from the expansion of local populations. These results could provide a useful background to better evaluate invasion risks and establish priorities for the management of this cosmopolitan agricultural pest.
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