Fall webworm genomes yield insights into rapid adaptation of invasive species

Ningning Wu, Sufang Zhang, Xiaowei Li, Yanghui Cao, Xiaojing Liu, Qinghua Wang, Qun Liu, Huihui Liu, Xiao Hu, Xuguo J. Zhou, Anthony A. James, Zhen Zhang, Yongping Huang, Shuai Zhan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Scopus citations


Invasive species cause considerable ecological and economic damage. Despite decades of broad impacts of invasives on diversity and agriculture, the genetic adaptations and near-term evolution of invading populations are poorly understood. The fall webworm, Hyphantria cunea, a highly successful invasive species that originated in North America, spread throughout the Northern Hemisphere during the past 80 years. Here, we use whole-genome sequencing of invasive populations and transcriptome profiling to probe the underlying genetic bases for the rapid adaptation of this species to new environments and host plants. We find substantial reductions in genomic diversity consistent with founder effects. Genes and pathways associated with carbohydrate metabolism and gustatory receptors are substantially expanded in the webworm genome and show strong signatures of functional polymorphisms in the invasive population. We also find that silk-yielding-associated genes maintained a relatively low level of functional diversity, and identify candidate genes that may regulate the development of silk glands in fall webworms. These data suggest that the fall webworm’s ability to colonize novel hosts, mediated by plasticity in their gustatory capabilities along with an increased ability to utilize novel nutrition sources and substrates, has facilitated the rapid and successful adaptation of the species throughout its range.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)105-115
Number of pages11
JournalNature Ecology and Evolution
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank S. Wang and Y. Zhu for kind suggestions in initiating the sequencing. We also acknowledge H. Li and X. Huang for comments on the population genetics analyses. This study was supported by the National Science Foundation of China (31672370, 31522053, 31420103918, 91631103 and 31501877), the National Key Research and Development Program of China (2015CB755703), the Chinese Academy of Sciences (XDB27040205, 173176001000162007 and QYZDB-SSW-SMC029), the Special Fund for Forest Scientific Research in the Public Welfare (201504302), the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Non-profit Research Institution of CAF (CAFYBB2017QB003) and the Shanghai Yangfan Program (16YF1413700).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Limited.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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