Comparative genomics suggests local adaptations in the invasive small hive beetle.
Invasive species are a major driver of ecological and environmental changes that affect human health, food security, and natural biodiversity. The success and impact of biological invasions depend on adaptations to novel abiotic and biotic selective pressures. However, the molecular mechanisms underlying adaptations in invasive parasitic species are inadequately understood. Small hive beetles, Aethina tumida, are parasites of bee nests. Originally endemic to sub-Saharan Africa, they are now found nearly globally. Here, we investigated the molecular bases of the adaptations to novel environments underlying their invasion routes. Genomes of historic and recent adults A. tumida from both the endemic and introduced ranges were compared. Analysis of gene-environment association identified 3049 candidate loci located in 874 genes. Functional annotation showed a significant bias toward genes linked to growth and reproduction. One of the genes from the apoptosis pathway encodes an "ecdysone-related protein," which is a crucial regulator in controlling body size in response to environmental cues for holometabolous insects during cell death and renewal. Genes whose proteins regulate organ size, ovary activation, and oviposition were also detected. Functions of these enriched pathways parallel behavioral differences between introduced and native A. tumida populations, which may reflect patterns of local adaptation. The results considerably improve our understanding of the underlying mechanisms and ecological factors driving adaptations of invasive species. Deep functional investigation of these identified loci will help clarify the mechanisms of local adaptation in A. tumida.