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Molecular ecological basis of grasshopper (Oedaleus asiaticus) phenotypic plasticity under environmental selection

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Xinghu Qin, Kun Hao, Jingchuan Ma, Xunbing Huang, Xiongbing Tu, Md. Panna Ali, Barry R. Pittendrigh, Guangchun Cao, Guangjun Wang, Xiangqun Nong, Douglas W. Whitman, Zehua Zhang

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While ecological adaptation in insects can be reflected by plasticity of phenotype, determining the causes and molecular mechanisms for phenotypic plasticity (PP) remains a crucial and still difficult question in ecology, especially where control of insect pests is involved. Oedaleus asiaticus is one of the most dominant pests in the Inner Mongolia steppe and represents an excellent system to study phenotypic plasticity. To better understand ecological factors affecting grasshopper phenotypic plasticity and its molecular control, we conducted a full transcriptional screening of O. asiaticus grasshoppers reared in four different grassland patches in Inner Mongolia. Grasshoppers showed different degrees of PP associated with unique gene expressions and different habitat plant community compositions. Grasshopper performance variables were susceptible to habitat environment conditions and closely associated with plant architectures. Intriguingly, eco-transcriptome analysis revealed five potential candidate genes playing important roles in grasshopper performance, with gene expression closely relating to PP and plant community factors. By linking the grasshopper performances to gene profiles and ecological factors using canonical regression, we first demonstrated the eco-transcriptomic architecture of grasshopper phenotypic traits. Regression biplot revealed plant food type, plant density, coverage, and height were the main ecological factors influencing PP, while insect cuticle protein (ICP), negative elongation factor A (NELFA), and lactase-phlorizin hydrolase (LCT) were the key genes associated with PP. Our study gives a clear picture of gene-environment interaction in the formation and maintenance of PP and enriches our understanding of the transcriptional events underlying molecular control of rapid phenotypic plasticity associated with environmental variability. The findings of this study may also provide new targets for pest control and highlight the significance of ecological management practice on grassland conservation.


Original languageEnglish
Article number770
Number of pages16
JournalFrontiers in Physiology
StatePublished - 10 Oct 2017

    Research areas

  • Oedaleus asiaticus, Phenotypic plasticity, Environmental variation, Transcriptome, Eco-transcriptomic architecture

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