The mode of pheromone evolution: evidence from bark beetles


Sex and aggregation pheromones consist of species–specific blends of chemicals. The way in which different species’ blends have evolved has been the subject of some debate. Theoretical predictions suggest that differences between species have arisen not through the accruing of small changes, but through major shifts in chemical composition. Using data on the aggregation pheromones of 34 species of bark beetle from two genera, Dendroctonus and Ips, we investigated how the distributions of the chemical components of their pheromone blends mirror their phylogenetic relationships. We tested whether there were consistent patterns that could be used to help elucidate the mode of pheromone evolution. Although there were obvious differences in pheromone blends between the two genera, the differences between species within each genus followed a less clear phylogenetic pattern. In both genera, closely related species are just as different as more distantly related species. Within Dendroctonus, particularly, most chemical components were distributed randomly across the phylogeny. Indeed, for some chemicals, closely related species may actually be more different than would be expected from a random distribution of chemical components. This argues strongly against the idea of minor shifts in pheromone evolution. Instead, we suggest that, within certain phylogenetic constraints, pheromone evolution in bark beetles is characterized by large saltational shifts, resulting in sibling species being substantially phenotypically (i.e. pheromonally) different from one another, thus agreeing with theoretical predictions.

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