This review covers nearly 20 years of studies on the ecology, physiology and genetics of the Hymenoptera Cotesia sesamiae, an African parasitoid of Lepidoptera that reduces populations of common maize borers in East and South Africa. The first part of the review presents studies based on sampling of C. sesamiae from maize crops in Kenya. From this agrosystem including one host plant and three main host borer species, studies revealed two genetically differentiated populations of C. sesamiae species adapted to their local host community, and showed that their differentiation involved the joint evolution of virulence genes and sensory mechanisms of host acceptance, reinforced by reproductive incompatibility due to Wolbachia infection status and natural inbreeding. In the second part, we consider the larger ecosystem of wild Poales plant species hosting many Lepidoptera stem borer species that are potential hosts for C. sesamiae. The hypothesis of other host-adapted C. sesamiae populations was investigated based on a large sampling of stem borer larvae on various Poales across sub-Saharan Africa. The sampling provided information on the respective contribution of local hosts, biogeography and Wolbachia in the genetic structure of C. sesamiae populations. Molecular evolution analyses highlighted that several bracovirus genes were under positive selection, some of them being under different selection pressure in C. sesamiae populations adapted to different hosts. This suggests that C. sesamiae host races result from co-evolution acting at the local scale on different bracovirus genes. The third part considers the mechanisms driving specialization. C. sesamiae host races are more or less host-specialized. This character is crucial for efficient and environmentally-safe use of natural enemies for biological control of pests. One method to get an insight in the evolutionary stability of host-parasite associations is to characterize the phylogenetic relationships between the so-called host-races. Based on the construction of a phylogeny of C. sesamiae samples from various host- and plant species, we revealed three main lineages. Mechanisms of differentiation are discussed with regard to the geography and ecology of the samples. One of the lineage presented all the hallmarks of a distinct species, which has been morphologically described and is now studied in the perspective of being used as biological control agent against Sesamia nonagrioides Lefèbvre (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae), a major maize pest in West Africa and Mediterranean countries (see Benoist et al. 2017). The fourth part reviews past and present use of C. sesamiae in biological control, and points out the interest of such molecular ecology studies to reconcile biodiversity and food security stakes in future biological control.
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