Molecular genetic variation of boll weevil populations in North America estimated with microsatellites: Implications for patterns of dispersal

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The boll weevil (Anthonomus grandis Boheman) is an insect pest of cotton that underwent a well-documented range expansion across the southeastern U.S. from Mexico beginning about 110 years ago. Eleven microsatellite loci were surveyed to infer the magnitude and pattern of genetic differentiation among boll weevil populations from 18 locations across eight U.S. states and northeast Mexico. Estimates of genetic diversity (allelic diversity and heterozygosity) were greater in Southern than Northern populations, and were greater in the west than the east among Northern populations. Boll weevil populations were genetically structured as a whole across the geographic range sampled, with a global FST of 0.241. South-central populations exhibit classic isolation by distance, but evidence suggests that populations within the Eastern and Western regions have not yet reached genetic equilibrium. Gene flow appears to be relatively high among populations within the Eastern region. Population assignment data and estimates of gene flow indicate that migration between locations separated by < 300 km is frequent. The database of microsatellite genotypes generated in this study now makes it possible, through population assignment techniques, to identify the most likely geographic source of a boll weevil reintroduced to an eradication zone, which will help action agencies decide the most appropriate mitigation response.

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