DOI: 10.1111/eva.13588 ISSN:

Spatial and temporal patterns in the population genomics of the European cockchafer Melolontha melolontha in the Alpine region

Chiara Pedrazzini, Hermann Strasser, Niklaus Zemp, Rolf Holderegger, Franco Widmer, Jürg Enkerli
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • Genetics
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


The European cockchafer Melolontha melolontha is an agricultural pest in many European countries. Populations have a synchronized 3 or 4 years life cycle, leading to temporally isolated populations. Despite the economic importance and availability of comprehensive historical as well as current records on cockchafer occurrence, population genomic analyses of M. melolontha are missing. For example, the effects of geographic separation caused by the mountainous terrain of the Alps and of temporal isolation on the genomic structure of M. melolontha still remain unknown. To address this gap, we genotyped 475 M. melolontha adults collected during 3 years from 35 sites in a central Alpine region. Subsequent population structure analyses discriminated two main genetic clusters, i.e., the South Tyrol cluster including collections located southeast of the Alpine mountain range, and a northwestern alpine cluster with all the other collections, reflecting distinct evolutionary history and geographic barriers. The “passo di Resia” linking South and North Tyrol represented a regional contact zone of the two genetic clusters, highlighting genomic differentiation between the collections from the northern and southern regions. Although the collections from northwestern Italy were assigned to the northwestern alpine genetic cluster, they displayed evidence of admixture with the South Tyrolean genetic cluster, suggesting shared ancestry. A linear mixed model confirmed that both geographic distance and, to a lower extent, also temporal isolation had a significant effect on the genetic distance among M. melolontha populations. These effects may be attributed to limited dispersal capacity and reproductive isolation resulting from synchronized and non‐synchronized swarming flights, respectively. This study contributes to the understanding of the phylogeography of an organism that is recognized as an agricultural problem and provides significant information on the population genomics of insect species with prolonged temporally shifted and locally synchronized life cycles.

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