Novel host plant use by a specialist insect depends on geographic variation in both the host and herbivore species

James P. Michielini,Xianfeng Yi, Leone M. Brown, Shan Ming Gao,Colin Orians,Elizabeth E. Crone


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Understanding the circumstances under which insect herbivores will adopt a novel host plant is a longstanding question in basic and applied ecology. While geographic variation in host use can arise through differences in both herbivore preference and plant characteristics, there is a tendency to attribute geographic variation in host use to regional differences in herbivore preference alone. This is especially true for herbivores specialized to one or a few plant species. We compared how geographic variation in herbivore preference and host plant origin shape regional differences in host plant use by the specialized herbivore, Euphydryas phaeton . In parts of its range, E. phaeton uses only a native host, Chelone glabra , while in others, it also uses an introduced host, Plantago lanceolata . We offered female butterflies from each region the non-native host plant sourced from both regions and compared their oviposition behavior. The non-native host was almost universally rejected by butterflies in the region where only the native plant is used. In the region where butterflies use both hosts, females accepted non-native plants from their natal region twice as often as non-native plants from the other region where they are not used. Acceptance differed substantially among individual butterflies within regions but not among plants within regions. Thus, both individual preference and regional differences in both the insect and non-native host contributed to the geographic variation in different ways. These results highlight that, in addition to herbivore preference, regional differences in perceived plant suitability may be an important driver of diet breadth.
Plant–insect interactions,Oviposition,Introduced species,Euphydryas,Host choice
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