Rapid evolution of the Colorado potato beetle

Although the Colorado Potato Beetle is a major pest of potato and found throughout the Northern Hemisphere, there is relatively little known about its geographic and evolutionary origins as a pest. We are investigating the beetle’s evolutionary history because it may provide insight as to why this pest is so incredibly successful. The Colorado potato beetle (CPB), Leptinotarsa decemlineata (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae) has been widely studied by entomologists (>2700 references), with the majority of the efforts focused on managing it as a pest. Despite the intense focus on novel ways to kill the beetle, little effort has focused on why the beetle is so successful in adapting to new insecticides and climates.

Our Major Questions

  • How are beetle populations related genetically?
  • How do geographic beetle populations vary in their response to temperate climatic conditions?
  • Do geographic beetle populations differ in their ability to evolve resistance to insecticides?

Kristian Brevik, Ph. D. student (2014-2020)
Erika Bueno, Ph. D. student (2018-present)
Blair Christensen, Ph. D. student (2021-present)

Sean Schoville, University of Wisconsin, US
Andrei Alyokhin, University of Maine, US
Silvia Rondon, Oregon State University, US
Leena Lindstrom, University of Jyväkylä, Finland
Michael Crossley, University of Delaware
Benjamin Pélissié, University of Nebraska
Zachary Cohen, USDA ARS, College Station, TX
David Hawthorne, University of Maryland, US

Recent Publications

Brevik, K., S. D. Schoville, A. Muszewska, B. Pélissié, Z. Cohen, V. Izzo, and Y. H. Chen. In Prep. Transposable elements differ between geographic populations of the Colorado potato beetle, Leptinotarsa decemlineata.

Cohen, Z., Y. H. Chen, R. Groves, and S. D. Schoville. In Prep. Regional comparison of demography, recombination, and selection in pest populations of the Colorado potato beetle. Invited contribution to Evolutionary Applications.

Pélissié, B., Y. H. Chen, Z. P. Cohen, M. S. Crossley, D. J. Hawthorne, V. Izzo, S. D. Schoville. In Revision. Genome resequencing reveals rapid, repeated evolution in the Colorado potato beetle, Leptinotarsa decemlineata. Molecular Biology and Evolution

Margus, A., S. Piiroinen, P. Lehmann, A. Grapputo, I. Ovcarenko, L. Gilbert, Y. H. Chen, and L. Lindström­. In Review. Qualitative and quantitative differences in the acetylcholinesterase genes can partly explain the resistance differences in Leptinotarsa decemlineata populations. Submitted to Evolutionary Applications.

Brevik, K., E. M. Bueno, S. McKay, S. D. Schoville, and Y. H. Chen. 2021. Insecticide exposure affects intergenerational patterns of DNA methylation in the Colorado potato beetle, Leptinotarsa decemlineata. Evolutionary Applications. 14(3):746-757.

Cohen, Z. P., K. Brevik, Y. H. Chen, D. J. Hawthorne, B. D. Weibel, and S. D. Schoville. 2021. Elevated rates of positive selection drive the evolution of pestiferousness in the Colorado potato beetle (Leptinotarsa decemlineata, Say). Molecular Ecology 30(1): 237-254.

Thomas, G. W. C., Dohmen, E., Hughes, D. S. T., Murali, S. C., Poelchau, M., Glastad, K., Anstead, C. A., Ayoub, N. A., Batterham, P., Bellair, M., Binford, G. J., Chao, H., Chen, Y. H., Childers, C., Dinh, H., Doddapaneni, H. V., Duan, J. J., Dugan, S., Esposito, L. A., … Richards, S. (2020). Gene content evolution in the arthropods. Genome Biology, 21(1), 15.

Brevik, K., L. Lindström, S. D. McKay, and Y. H. Chen. 2018. Transgenerational effects of insecticides – implications for rapid pest evolution in agroecosystems. Special Issue, “Ecological Adaptation in Agroecosystems”. Current Opinion in Insect Science. 26:34-40.

Brevik, K., S. D. Schoville, D. Mota-Sanchez, and Y. H. Chen. 2018. Pesticide durability and the evolution of resistance: A novel application of survival analysis. Pest Management Science 74(9):1953-1963. 10.1002/ps.4899.

 Schoville, Sean D., Y. H. Chen, M. N. Andersson, J. B. Benoit, A. Bhandari, J. H. Bowsher, K. Brevik, K. Cappelle, M-J. M. Chen, A. K. Childers, C. Childers, O. Christiaens, J. Clements, E. N. Elpidina, P. Engsontia, M. Friedrich, I. García-Robles, C. Goswami, A. Grapputo, K. Gruden, M. Grynberg, B. Henrissat, E. C. Jennings, J. W. Jones, M. Kalsi, S. A. Khan, A. Kumar, F. Li, V. Lombard, X. Ma, A. Martynov, N. J. Miller, R. F. Mitchell, M. Munoz-Torres, A. Muszewska, Brenda Oppert, S. R. Palli, K. A. Panfilio, Y. Pauchet, L. C. Perkin, M. Petek, M. F. Poelchau, E. Record, J. P. Rinehart, H. M. Robertson, A. J. Rosendale, V. M. Ruiz-Arroyo, G. Smagghe, Z. Szendrei, E. M. Szuter, G. W. C. Thomas, A. S. Torson, I. M. Vargas Jentzsch, M. T. Weirauch, A. D. Yates, G. D. Yocum, J-S Yoon, Stephen Richards. 2018. A model species for agricultural pest genomics: the genome of the Colorado potato beetle, Leptinotarsa decemlineata (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae). Scientific Reports 8: 1931.

Izzo, V., Y. H. Chen, S. D. Schoville, C. Wang, D. J. Hawthorne. 2018. Origin of pest lineages of the Colorado potato beetle, Leptinotarsa decemlineata. Journal of Economic Entomology. 111(2): 868-878. Editor’s choice Award runner-up for 2018.

Crossley, M. S., Y. H. Chen, R. L. Groves, and S. D. Schoville. 2017. Landscape genomics of Colorado potato beetle provides evidence of polygenic adaptation to insecticides. Molecular Ecology 26(22): 6284-6300.

Alyokhin, A. and Y. H. Chen. 2017. Adaptation to toxic hosts as a factor in the evolution of insecticide resistance. Current Opinion in Insect Science 21:33-38.

Crop domestication and selection on agrobiodiversity and insect-plant interactions

All of the major crops that contribute to the human diet are domesticated and are frequently grown far from their geographic  region of origin. Selection on crops to meet human preferences for taste, harvestability, yield, and appearance may dramatically change plant morphological and chemical traits. We are have found that these changes can alter interactions between natural enemies and herbivores, potentially disrupting natural biological control.


Currently, I am leading two projects to study the evolutionary ecology of crop domestication in Mexico. Ph. D. student Jorge Ruiz-Arocho has been studying how the cultivation of domesticated crops shapes arthropod biodiversity in Mexico, by studying several domestication complexes: maize, beans, squash and tomatillos. Although biodiversity is considered fundamental to sustainable agriculture, little is known on how crop domestication and cultivation shapes agrobiodiversity in centers of crop origin. These centers are particularly important because they can be the source of both pest and beneficial species. We are using a metabar sequencing approach to rapidly identify species assemblages and determine community patterns of biodiversity. Secondly, I have been leading an interdisciplinary team to understand how seed systems (how crops are selected) influence mutualistic species interactions in Mexico, a major center of crop domestication.Some recent questions:
How does crop domestication alter species interactions and pest suppression?
How does the cultivation of domesticated crops alter patterns of arthropod biodiversity in centers of crop origin?
How do community patterns of biodiversity reflect a host crop’s history of selection and spread?
How do seed systems influence interactions between crops and associated mutualistic species?

Selected Recent Publications:

Chen, Y. H., J. Ruiz-Arocho*, E. J. B. von Wettberg. 2018. Crop domestication: Anthropogenic effects on insect-plant interactions in agroecosystems. Current Opinion in Insect Science 29: 56-63.

Chen, Y. H., L. R. Shapiro, B. Benrey, A. Cibrián-Jaramillo. 2017. Back to the origin: in situ studies are needed to understand selection during crop diversification. Special Issue: Ecology and Evolution of Plant under Domestication in the Neotropics. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, section Agroecology and Land Use Systems. 18 October.

Chen, Y. H., R. Gols, and B. Benrey. 2015. Crop domestication and its impact on naturally selected trophic interactions. Annual Review of Entomology. 60:35-58.


  • Daniel Tobin, Assistant Professor, Community Development and Applied Economics, UVM
  • Eric von Wettberg, Associate Professor, Gund Fellow, Plant and Soil Science, UVM
  • Alicia Mastretta-Yanes, CONACYT research fellow at Comisión Nacional para el Conocimiento y Uso de la Biodiversidad (CONABIO), Mexico
  • Angélica Cibrián, Principal Investigator, National Laboratory of Genomics for Biodiversity (LANGEBIO), Irapuato, Mexico
  • Mauricio Bellon, Research Professor, Arizona State University
  • Ana Wegier, Investigador Asociado C, Jardín Botánico, Instituto de Biología, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Mexico City, Mexico
  • Ana Sofía Monroy, Postdoctoral researcher, ECOSUR, Chiapas, Mexico
  • Betty Benrey, Université de Neuchâtel, Neuchâtel, Switzerland
  • Cesar Rodriguez-Saona, Rutgers University, US
  • Julio Bernal, Texas A&M University, US

Disruption of an invasive specialist of Brassica – the invasive swede midge, Contarinia nasturtii

One of the most vexing problems for organic growers is swede midge, Contarinia nasturtii (Diptera: Cecidomyiidae), an invasive pest of Brassica crops (broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, bok choy, canola, etc.). Swede midge is particularly damaging for heading Brassicas such as broccoli and cauliflower (Hallett 2007), causing up to 100% losses for organic broccoli in NY, VT, and MI (Hoepting and Chen, pers. obs.). While conventional growers can manage the cryptically feeding midge with systemic insecticides, organic growers lack an equivalent management option. As a result, many organic growers in the region have reduced or abandoned broccoli production. Given that the midge has invaded into 15 states and there is an extremely low damage threshold for heading Brassica crops, there is a critical need for research and development on novel swede approaches for managing swede midge. For the last several years, we have been the only lab working on research and development for alternatives to systemic insecticides for the swede midge in the US.

Given the extreme sensitivity of heading Brassicas to swede midge, our research focuses on developing new ecologically-based strategies, namely by preventing oviposition. We use applied chemical ecology practices to improve swede midge management. Recent projects have focused on low-input

Some recent questions:
Can crop phylogenetic relationships be useful in designing agricultural systems for enhancing pest control?
What are viable ecologically-based management options for swede midge management?
How can we use information on the reproductive biology and mating behavior of swede midge to develop an effective pheromone mating disruption system?

Chase Stratton, Ph. D. student (2014-2018)
Elisabeth Hodgdon, Ph. D. student (2015-2019)
Andrea Campbell, Ph. D. student (2018-present)