Genome scans reveal candidate regions involved in the adaptation to host plant in the pea aphid complex


Correspondence: Jean-Christophe Simon, Fax: +33 2 23 48 51 50; E-mail:


A major goal in evolutionary biology is to uncover the genetic basis of adaptation. Divergent selection exerted on ecological traits may result in adaptive population differentiation and reproductive isolation and affect differentially the level of genetic divergence along the genome. Genome-wide scan of large sets of individuals from multiple populations is a powerful approach to identify loci or genomic regions under ecologically divergent selection. Here, we focused on the pea aphid, a species complex of divergent host races, to explore the organization of the genomic divergence associated with host plant adaptation and ecological speciation. We analysed 390 microsatellite markers located at variable distances from predicted genes in replicate samples of sympatric populations of the pea aphid collected on alfalfa, red clover and pea, which correspond to three common host-adapted races reported in this species complex. Using a method that accounts for the hierarchical structure of our data set, we found a set of 11 outlier loci that show higher genetic differentiation between host races than expected under the null hypothesis of neutral evolution. Two of the outliers are close to olfactory receptor genes and three other nearby genes encoding salivary proteins. The remaining outliers are located in regions with genes of unknown functions, or which functions are unlikely to be involved in interactions with the host plant. This study reveals genetic signatures of divergent selection across the genome and provides an inventory of candidate genes responsible for plant specialization in the pea aphid, thereby setting the stage for future functional studies.