Behavioral and physiological plasticity provides insights into molecular based adaptation mechanism to strain shift in Spodoptera frugiperda.
How herbivorous insects adapt to host plants is a key question in ecological and evolutionary biology. The fall armyworm, (FAW) Spodoptera frugiperda (J.E. Smith), although polyphagous and a major pest on various crops, has been reported to have a rice and corn (maize) feeding strain in its native range in the Americas. The species is highly invasive and has recently established in China. We compared behavioral changes in larvae and adults of a corn population (Corn) when selected on rice (Rice) and the molecular basis of these adaptational changes in midgut and antennae based on a comparative transcriptome analysis. Larvae of S. frugiperda reared on rice plants continuously for 20 generations exhibited strong feeding preference for with higher larval performance and pupal weight on rice than on maize plants. Similarly, females from the rice selected population laid significantly more eggs on rice as compared to females from maize population. The most highly expressed DEGs were shown in the midgut of Rice vs. Corn. A total of 6430 DEGs were identified between the populations mostly in genes related to digestion and detoxification. These results suggest that potential adaptations for feeding on rice crops, may contribute to the current rapid spread of fall armyworm on rice crops in China and potentially elsewhere. Consistently, highly expressed DEGs were also shown in antennae; a total of 5125 differentially expressed genes (DEGs) s were identified related to the expansions of major chemosensory genes family in Rice compared to the Corn feeding population. These results not only provide valuable insight into the molecular mechanisms in host plants adaptation of S. frugiperda but may provide new gene targets for the management of this pest.