One of the very first predictive uses of evolutionary biology was in saving the European grape vines from the introduced aphid, Phylloxera, in the 1870s. Understanding how the N American vines had coevolved with the pest to become resistant to the ubiquitous pest was, for many scientists, their first application of the theory of evolution.
The European plants were defenseless to the pest and had no time to adapt. This rapid death of the plant was complicating the research on the aphid because of how rapidly its population was evolving in the new habitat. In the new niche, in Europe’s field of inbred Vitus vinifera cultivars, the aphid altered aspects of its life cycle, making it difficult to compare with the parent population in N. America. The aphid killed the plants so rapidly it was being selected for a new set of traits and behaviors.
Bringing rooted American vines to Europe eventually brought the insect. European vines had evolved no resistance to the insect so entire cloned fields succumbed. Scientists from America and France worked together to understand the complex aphid life cycle, with four forms, before the entire wine industry collapsed. Early understanding of how the interlocking selective pressures of coevolving ecologies was limited but the researchers persisted in seeking to understand the aphids life cycle to find a vulnerable point to attack a ground dwelling insect that could spread by flight and hide in leaf galls.
This plaque of aphids encouraged the French scientist to seek the any predator that could aid in fighting the aphid but a faster response was also needed.
Eventually a resistant rootstock was used to graft the European grape vines, but today the fight continues with active attempts to evolve a hybrid grape species between the N. American and European vines. This cross is to generate a hybrid vine that inherits the American species resistance to phylloxera but produce a wine that does not taste like the American grape
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