Using Drosophila to study the evolution of herbivory and diet specialization

Simon C. Groen, Noah K. Whiteman

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Herbivory evolved many times independently across the insect phylogeny, and its evolution is linked with increased rates of diversification. Plants present many barriers to potential herbivores, among them are the so-called secondary chemicals and other molecular defenses such as protease inhibitors that deter herbivores. To understand the mechanisms behind the emergence of herbivory and subsequent species radiations of insects driven largely by diet specialization, it is important to identify the molecular basis associated with these evolutionary transitions. However, most herbivore species lack the genomic information and genetic tools required to identify functionally important genes. The notable exception is the genus Drosophila in which herbivory evolved at least three times independently, and for which abundant genomic data are available. Furthermore, contained within the family Drosophilidae is Drosophila melanogaster, the first genetic model animal. Here, we provide a synthesis of the salient tools that the D. melanogaster system provides to identify functionally important genes required for herbivory and subsequent diet specialization across insects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)66-72
Number of pages7
JournalCurrent Opinion in Insect Science
StatePublished - Apr 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Insect Science


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