• adaptation;
  • beast;
  • Coffea arabica;
  • coffee berry disease;
  • divergence population genetics;
  • plant pathogen


Ecological speciation through host-shift has been proposed as a major route for the appearance of novel fungal pathogens. The growing awareness of their negative impact on global economies and public health created an enormous interest in identifying the factors that are most likely to promote their emergence in nature. In this work, a combination of pathological, molecular and geographical data was used to investigate the recent emergence of the fungus Colletotrichum kahawae. C. kahawae emerged as a specialist pathogen causing coffee berry disease in Coffea arabica, owing to its unparalleled adaptation of infecting green coffee berries. Contrary to current hypotheses, our results suggest that a recent host-jump underlay the speciation of C. kahawae from a generalist group of fungi seemingly harmless to coffee berries. We posit that immigrant inviability and a predominantly asexual behaviour could have been instrumental in driving speciation by creating pleiotropic interactions between local adaptation and reproductive patterns. Moreover, we estimate that C. kahawae began its diversification at <2200 bp leaving a very short time frame since the divergence from its sibling lineage (c. 5600 bp), during which a severe drop in C. kahawae’s effective population size occurred. This further supports a scenario of recent introduction and subsequent adaptation to C. arabica. Phylogeographical data revealed low levels of genetic polymorphism but provided the first geographically consistent population structure of C. kahawae, inferring the Angolan population as the most ancestral and the East African populations as the most recently derived. Altogether, these results highlight the significant role of host specialization and asexuality in the emergence of fungal pathogens through ecological speciation.