Can selfish genes help prevent pest outbreaks?


Numerous economically and medically important insect species have been targets of genetic control efforts to reduce or eliminate their negative impacts. Selfish genes (coupled with deleterious alleles) are one possible genetic mechanism that could be deployed to suppress pest populations. We develop a population dynamics model describing how such control may be effective from a theoretical perspective, using a bark beetle – conifer system as a case study . We consider a cellular automaton model, allowing diffusion of beetles between cells, and assess whether beetle populations can be suppressed and maintained below outbreak thresholds. We found, that for biologically-relevant parameter values, this selfish genetic element is maintained in the population and that local beetle populations became suppressed or extirpated without substantially depleting their conifer resource. Under certain conditions, beetle movements between cells were sufficient to maintain suppressed beetle populations, which suggests that genetic control of bark beetle pests may be possible.

1st Joint Congress on Evolutionary Biology
Ottawa, ON