Abstract Background Understanding the mechanisms that underlie the diversification of herbivores through interactions with their hosts is important for their diversity assessment and identification of expansion events, particularly in a human-altered world where evolutionary processes can be exacerbated. We studied patterns of host usage and genetic structure in the wheat curl mite complex (WCM), Aceria tosichella, a major pest of the world’s grain industry, to identify the factors behind its extensive diversification. Results We expanded on previous phylogenetic research, demonstrating deep lineage diversification within the taxon, a complex of distinctive host specialist and generalist lineages more diverse than previously assumed. Time-calibrated phylogenetic reconstruction inferred from mitochondrial DNA sequence data suggests that lineage diversification pre-dates the influence of agricultural practices, and lineages started to radiate in the mid Miocene when major radiations of C4 grasses is known to have occurred. Furthermore, we demonstrated that host specificity is not phylogenetically constrained, while host generalization appears to be a more derived trait coinciding with the expansion of the world’s grasslands. Demographic history of specialist lineages have been more stable when compared to generalists, and their expansion pre-dated all generalist lineages. The lack of host-associated genetic structure of generalists indicates gene flow between mite populations from different hosts. Conclusions Our analyses demonstrated that WCM is an unexpectedly diverse complex of genetic lineages and its differentiation is likely associated with the time of diversification and expansion of its hosts. Signatures of demographic histories and expansion of generalists are consistent with the observed proliferation of the globally most common lineages. The apparent lack of constrains on host use, coupled with a high colonization potential, hinders mite management, which may be further compromised by host range expansion. This study provides a significant contribution to the growing literature on host-association and diversification in herbivorous invertebrates
To submit an update or takedown request for this paper, please submit an Update/Correction/Removal Request.