Virus host range, i.e., the number and diversity of host species of viruses, is an important determinant of disease emergence and of the efficiency of disease control strategies. However, for plant viruses, little is known about the genetic or ecological factors involved in the evolution of host range. Using available genome sequences and host range data, we performed a phylogenetic analysis of host range evolution in the genus Potyvirus
, a large group of plant RNA viruses that has undergone a radiative evolution circa 7000 years ago, contemporaneously with agriculture intensification in mid Holocene. Maximum likelihood inference based on a set of 59 potyviruses and 38 plant species showed frequent host range changes during potyvirus evolution, with 4.6 changes per plant species on average, including 3.1 host gains and 1.5 host loss. These changes were quite recent, 74% of them being inferred on the terminal branches of the potyvirus tree. The most striking result was the high frequency of correlated host gains occurring repeatedly in different branches of the potyvirus tree, which raises the question of the dependence of the molecular and/or ecological mechanisms involved in adaptation to different plant species.
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