The Many Dimensions of Diet Breadth: Phytochemical, Genetic, Behavioral, and Physiological Perspectives on the Interaction between a Native Herbivore and an Exotic Host




Harrison, Joshua G.
Gompert, Zachariah
Fordyce, James
Buerkle, C. Alex
Grinstead, Rachel
Jahner, Joshua P.
Mikel, Scott
Nice, Chris C.
Santamaria, Aldrin
Forister, Matthew L.

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Public Library of Science


From the perspective of an herbivorous insect, conspecific host plants are not identical, and intraspecific variation in host nutritional quality or defensive capacity might mediate spatially variable outcomes in plant-insect interactions. Here we explore this possibility in the context of an ongoing host breadth expansion of a native butterfly (the Melissa blue, Lycaeides melissa) onto an exotic host plant (alfalfa, Medicago sativa). We examine variation among seven alfalfa populations that differed in terms of colonization by L. melissa; specifically, we examined variation in phytochemistry, foliar protein, and plant population genetic structure, as well as responses of caterpillars and adult butterflies to foliage from the same populations. Regional patterns of alfalfa colonization by L. melissa were well predicted by phytochemical variation, and colonized patches of alfalfa showed a similar level of inter-individual phytochemical diversity. However, phytochemical variation was a poor predictor of larval performance, despite the fact that survival and weight gain differed dramatically among caterpillars reared on plants from different alfalfa populations. Moreover, we observed a mismatch between alfalfa supporting the best larval performance and alfalfa favored by ovipositing females. Thus, the axes of plant variation that mediate interactions with L. melissa depend upon herbivore life history stage, which raises important issues for our understanding of adaptation to novel resources by an organism with a complex life history.



alfalfa, phytochemicals, larvae, phytochemistry, population genetics, genetic polymorphism, caterpillars, oviposition, Biology


Harrison, J. G., Gompert, Z., Fordyce, J. A., Buerkle, C. A., Grinstead, R., Jahner, J. P., Mikel, S., Nice, C. C., Santamaria, A., & Forister, M. L. (2016). The many dimensions of diet breadth: Phytochemical, genetic, behavioral, and physiological perspectives on the interaction between a native herbivore and an exotic host. PLoS One, 11(2), e0147971.


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© 2016 Harrison et al.

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