Understanding the mechanisms generating biodiversity is a central issue in biological sciences. Herbivores are a more bio diverse group than their predators and evidence is growing that this diversity stems from herbivores specializing to their host plants. We aim to study the mechanisms underlying specialization in the weevil Latrines canaries, which occurs on several thistle species (noxious weeds) in the Mediterranean basin. The host range of this insect varies among populations, facilitating the identification of such mechanisms. Previous studies have pointed at the possible role of host phonology, competitors and predators and of trade-offs in adaptations to different hosts, but these hypotheses require testing. We propose to carry out these tests by performing manipulative experiments in the field and in the laboratory, using molecular tools available at the University of Montpellier. Our results will be used to parameterise a model on the evolution of specialization. It is expected that the research project described here helps identifying the mechanisms driving specialization and speciation in herbivorous insects. This insight is instrumental in managing biodiversity and in combating weeds in agriculture, both of which are important issues in EU policy. The applicant will extend her knowledge of Population Biology to Population Genetics, thereby increasing her level of expertise as a professional researcher.
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