The population genetics of the apple maggot fly, Rhagoletis pomonella and the snowberry maggot, R. zephyria: Implications for models of sympatric speciation

Jeffrey L. Feder, Scott M. Williams, Stewart H. Berlocher, Bruce A. McPheron, Guy L. Bush

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


True fruit flies belonging to the Rhagoletis pomonella (Diptera: Tephritidae) sibling species complex possess several attributes consistent with a history of sympatric divergence via host plant shifts. Here, we investigate whether hybridization and genetic introgression is occurring between two members of the group, Rhagoletis pomonella (Walsh), whose primary hosts are domestic apples (Malus pumila) and hawthorns (Crataegus spp., and R. zephyria (Snow) whose host is snowberries (Symphoricarpos spp.). These flies are important because they appear to be at a transition stage between taxa reproductively isolated solely on the basis of host plant-related adaptations and those that have evolved additional non-host dependent sterility and inviability. Observing extensive hybridization and introgression between R. pomonella and R. zephyria would have major repercussions for current models of sympatric speciation. In a survey of allozyme and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) variation for 1105 flies collected throughout the northern United States we found two results suggesting that low level hybridization occurs between R. pomonella and R. zephyria. (1) Two flies reared from snowberries and one fly reared from hawthorns had genotypes indicative of them being R. pomonella and R. zephyria, respectively. Rhagoletis pomonella and R. zephyria adults may therefore occasionally frequent each others host plant, providing the opportunity for hybridization. (2) Four flies collected from hawthorns and one from snowberries had genotypes that made them likely to be F1 hybrids. Likelihood analysis revealed the data were also consistent with an hypothesis of shared ancestral alleles (i.e., the pattern of genetic variation could also be explained by R. pomonella and R. zephyria sharing alleles/haplotypes whose origins date to a common ancestor). We estimated that, in the absence of interspecific mating, random assortment of genes within R. pomonella and R. zephyria populations would produce an average of 5.4 flies with genotypes suggesting they were F1 hybrids- a number equivalent to the 5 putative F1 hybrids observed in the study. Our results therefore underscore the difficulty in distinguishing between hypotheses of low level introgression and shared ancestral polymorphism. But even if hybridization is occurring, the data suggest that it is happening at a very low and probably evolutionarily insignificant level (perhaps 0.09% per generation), consistent with sympatric speciation theory. Future tests are discussed that could help resolve the hybridization issue for R. pomonella and R. zephyria.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9-24
Number of pages16
JournalEntomologia Experimentalis et Applicata
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1999


  • Allozymes
  • Ancestral polymorphism
  • Apple Maggot Fly
  • Hybridization
  • Introgression
  • Mitochondrial DNA
  • Rhagoletis pomonella
  • Rhagoletis zephyria
  • Snowberry maggot
  • Sympatric speciation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Insect Science

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