Phenotypic Plasticity and Repeatability in the Mating Signals of Enchenopa Treehoppers, with Implications for Reduced Gene Flow among Host-Shifted Populations


Reginald B. Cocroft, Division of Biological Sciences, University of Missouri-Columbia, Columbia, MO 65211, USA. E-mail:


Mate signaling systems, because of their role in assortative mating, have often been implicated in the origins of evolutionary independence between lineages. We investigated three sources of phenotypic plasticity in mating signals with potential relevance to assortative mating in a species in the Enchenopa binotata complex of treehoppers. This group has been a model for speciation in sympatry through shifts to novel host plants. Host shifts result in partial reproductive isolation in Enchenopa binotata because of their effects on life history timing, but interbreeding is still possible if there is dispersal and some overlap of mating periods. Courtship in these plant-feeding insects is mediated by plant-borne vibrational signals. We asked whether variation in male mate signaling behavior is influenced by plant substrate, age, or size, each of which may play a role in interactions among host-shifted populations. Males produced fewer, shorter signals when on non-hosts than when on hosts. However, there were no effects of age or size on signal variation. Significant repeatability of some signal features (carrier frequency and the number of signals produced in a signaling bout) is consistent with the presence of genetic variation and thus the potential to respond to selection. Our results suggest that plasticity in mate signaling systems, and in particular in male mate searching behavior on hosts and non-hosts, may have the potential to reduce interbreeding between populations that use different species of host plant.