Ancient host shifts followed by host conservatism in a group of ant parasitoids

Elizabeth A. Murray, Andrew E. Carmichael, John M. Heraty

Abstract

While ant colonies serve as host to a diverse array of myrmecophiles, few parasitoids are able to exploit this vast resource. A notable exception is the wasp family Eucharitidae, which is the only family of insects known to exclusively parasitize ants. Worldwide, approximately 700 Eucharitidae species attack five subfamilies across the ant phylogeny. Our goal is to uncover the pattern of eucharitid diversification, including timing of key evolutionary events, biogeographic patterns and potential cophylogeny with ant hosts. We present the most comprehensive molecular phylogeny of Eucharitidae to date, including 44 of the 53 genera and fossil-calibrated estimates of divergence dates. Eucharitidae arose approximately 50 Ma after their hosts, during the time when the major ant lineages were already established and diversifying. We incorporate host association data to test for congruence between eucharitid and ant phylogenies and find that their evolutionary histories are more similar than expected at random. After a series of initial host shifts, clades within Eucharitidae maintained their host affinity. Even after multiple dispersal events to the New World and extensive speciation within biogeographic regions, eucharitids remain parasitic on the same ant subfamilies as their Old World relatives, suggesting host conservatism despite access to a diverse novel ant fauna.

  • Received February 24, 2013.
  • Accepted March 8, 2013.
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