Despite the potential for infectious agents harbored by other species to become emerging human pathogens, little is known about why some agents establish successful cross-species transmission, while others do not. The simian immunodeficiency viruses (SIVs), certain variants of which gave rise to the human HIV-1 and HIV-2 epidemics, have demonstrated tremendous success in infecting new host species, both simian and human. SIVsm from sooty mangabeys appears to have infected humans on several occasions, and was readily transmitted to nonnatural Asian macaque species, providing animal models of AIDS. Here we describe the first in-depth analysis of the tremendous SIVsm quasispecies sequence variation harbored by individual sooty mangabeys, and how this diverse quasispecies adapts to two different host speciesnew nonnatural rhesus macaque hosts and natural sooty mangabey hosts. Viral adaptation to rhesus macaques was associated with the immediate amplification of a phylogenetically related subset of envelope (env) variants. These variants contained a shorter variable region 1 loop and lacked two specific glycosylation sites, which may be selected for during acute infection. In contrast, transfer of SIVsm to its natural host did not subject the quasispecies to any significant selective pressures or bottleneck. After 100 d postinfection, variants more closely representative of the source inoculum reemerged in the macaques. This study describes an approach for elucidating how pathogens adapt to new host species, and highlights the particular importance of SIVsm env diversity in enabling cross-species transmission. The replicative advantage of a subset of SIVsm variants in macaques may be related to features of target cells or receptors that are specific to the new host environment, and may involve CD4-independent engagement of a viral coreceptor conserved among primates.