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Global invasion history of the world's most abundant pest butterfly: a citizen science population genomics study

By Sean F. Ryan, Eric Lombaert, Anne Espeset, Roger Vila, Gerard Talavera, Vlad Eugen Dinca, Mark A Renshaw, Matthew W Eng, Meredith M Doellman, Emily A Hornett, Yiyuan Li, Michael E. Pfrender, DeWayne Shoemaker

Posted 26 Dec 2018
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/506162

A major goal of invasion and climate change biology research is to understand the ecological and evolutionary responses of organisms to anthropogenic disturbance, especially over large spatial and temporal scales. One significant, and sometimes unattainable, challenge of these studies is garnering sufficient numbers of relevant specimens, especially for species spread across multiple continents. We developed a citizen science project, "Pieris Project", to successfully amass thousands of specimens of the invasive agricultural pest Pieris rapae, the small cabbage white butterfly, from 32 countries worldwide. We then generated and analyzed genomic (ddRAD) and mitochondrial DNA sequence data for these samples to reconstruct and compare different global invasion history scenarios. Our results bolster historical accounts of the global spread and timing of P. rapae introductions. The spread of P. rapae over the last ~160 years followed a linear series of at least four founding events, with each introduced population serving as the source for the next. We provide the first molecular evidence supporting the hypothesis that the ongoing divergence of the European and Asian subspecies of P. rapae (~1,200 yrBP) coincides with the domestication of brassicaceous crops. Finally, the international success of the Pieris Project allowed us to nearly double the geographic scope of our sampling (i.e., add >1,000 specimens from 13 countries), demonstrating the power of the public to aid scientists in collections-based research addressing important questions in ecology and evolutionary biology.

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