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Evolutionary assembly of the conifer fauna: distinguishing ancient from recent associations in bark beetles

Andrea S. Sequeira, Benjamin B. Normark, Brian D. Farrell

Abstract

Several shifts from ancestral conifer feeding to angiosperm feeding have been implicated in the unparalleled diversification of beetle species. The single largest angiosperm–feeding beetle clade occurs in the weevils, and comprises the family Curculionidae and relatives. Most authorities confidently place the bark beetles (Scolytidae) within this radiation of angiosperm feeders. However, some clues indicate that the association between conifers and some scolytids, particularly in the tribe Tomicini, is a very ancient one. For instance, several fragments of Gondwanaland (South America, New Caledonia, Australia and New Guinea) harbour endemic Tomicini specialized on members of the formerly widespread and abundant conifer family Araucariaceae. As a first step towards resolving this seeming paradox, we present a phylogenetic analysis of the beetle family Scolytidae with particularly intensive sampling of conifer–feeding Tomicini and allies. We sequenced and analysed elongation factor 1α and nuclear rDNAs 18S and 28S for 45 taxa, using members of the weevil family Cossoninae as an out–group. Our results indicate that conifer feeding is the ancestral host association of scolytids, and that the most basal lineages of scolytids feed on Araucaria. If scolytids are indeed nested within a great angiosperm–feeding clade, as many authorities have held, then a reversion to conifer feeding in ancestral scolytids appears to have occurred in the Mesozoic, when Araucaria still formed a major component of the woody flora.

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