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Host use evolution in Chrysochus milkweed beetles: evidence from behaviour, population genetics and phylogeny



In two sister species of leaf beetles with overlapping host associations, Chrysochus auratus and C. cobaltinus, we established diet breadth and food preference of local populations for evaluation together with genetic differentiation between populations. While C. auratus turned out to be monophagous on the same plant wherever we collected the beetles, the studied populations of C. cobaltinus fed on three different plant species in the field. Plant preference and ranking of the potential host plants significantly differed between these populations. The amount of genetic differentiation between populations was measured by a polymerase chain reaction–restriction fragment length polymorphism (PCR–RFLP) assay of a 1300 bp mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequence. In addition, the dominant genotypes of all populations were sequenced. No genetic differentiation between the populations of C. auratus could be detected in the RFLP assay and sequence divergence was low (= 0.3%). In C. cobaltinus, on the other hand, genetic differentiation between populations was high, revealing a lack of gene flow over a much smaller scale and a maximum of 1.3% sequence divergence. C. cobaltinus thereby has the prerequisites for host race formation on different plants from the original host spectrum. Our sequence-based phylogeny estimate allows us to reconstruct historical diet evolution in Chrysochus. Starting from an original association with Asclepiadaceae, the common ancestor of C. auratus and C. cobaltinus included Apocynaceae in its diet. The strict specialization on Apocynum and the loss of acceptance of Asclepiadaceae observed in C. auratus could have resulted from a process similar to that displayed by C. cobaltinus populations.