Evolutionary genetics of host shifts in herbivorous insects: insights from the age of genomics

Kim L. Vertacnik, Catherine R. Linnen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Adaptation to different host taxa is a key driver of insect diversification. Herbivorous insects are classic models for ecological and evolutionary research, but it is recent advances in sequencing, statistics, and molecular technologies that have cleared the way for investigations into the proximate genetic mechanisms underlying host shifts. In this review, we discuss how genome-scale data are revealing—at resolutions previously unimaginable—the genetic architecture of host-use traits, the causal loci underlying host shifts, and the predictability of host-use evolution. Collectively, these studies are providing novel insights into longstanding questions about host-use evolution. On the basis of this synthesis, we suggest that different host-use traits are likely to differ in their genetic architecture (number of causal loci and the nature of their genetic correlations) and genetic predictability (extent of gene or mutation reuse), indicating that any conclusions about the causes and consequences of host-use evolution will depend heavily on which host-use traits are investigated. To draw robust conclusions and identify general patterns in host-use evolution, we argue that investigation of diverse host-use traits and identification of causal genes and mutations should be the top priorities for future studies on the evolutionary genetics of host shifts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)186-212
Number of pages27
JournalAnnals of the New York Academy of Sciences
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 New York Academy of Sciences.


  • evolutionary genomics
  • genetic architecture
  • genetic convergence
  • genetics of host use
  • host adaptation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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