Sara E. Via
My work in insect plant interactions has focused on the pea aphid system, in which sympatric populations of pea aphids feed on two distantly related legumes (alfalfa and red clover) in agricultural settings. The aphids on the two hosts are highly genetically differentiated and locally adapted to the different hosts,despite close physical proximity. Recent work has shown that there is little gene flow between the sympatric populations on the two hosts, suggesting that these populations may be incipient species. The choice of host plants by winged (alate) colonists is largely responsible for the reproductive isolation that we see between the host-associated populations. My major research project at the moment concerns the genetic architecture of the extreme host plant specialization that we observe among populations of this species on the two hosts. My lab, in collaboration with the lab of Dr. David Hawthorne (Department of Entomology) is using a large crossing study between specialist genotypes to locate and enumerate the quantitative trait loci (QTLs) involved in host plant specialization and reproductive isolation. Other research interests include a phylogeographical analysis of locally adapted pea aphid populations on alfalfa and clover. My lab is also very interested in genetic mechanisms of interactions between insects and their parasitoids and disease.