Differential visual predation on morphs of Timema cristinae (Phasmatodeae:Timemidae) and its consequences for host range



Timema cristinae is a herbivorous insect that exhibits polymorphism for body coloration (green, red and grey morphs) and for pattern (striped, expressed only in the green morph, and unstriped). The striped green morph is associated with ceanothus (Ceanothus spinosus) and the unstriped green morph is associated with chamise (Adenostoma fasciculatum). This study examines the relative vulnerabilities to predation of the different pattern and colour morphs on their natural backgrounds. The vulnerabilities of the striped and unstriped morphs on their two food plants were tested using uncaged wild birds (Scrub Jays) and captive western fence lizards. Strong differential predation was observed suggesting that each morph is most cryptic on the food plant on which it is most common. Furthermore, in a mark-recapture experiment in a patch of ceanothus the unstriped and red morphs were recaptured in higher proportion than the other morphs. The vulnerabilities of the grey and green morphs on the ground and foliage were tested using lizards. The grey morph was more vulnerable on the plants than the green morph, but the inverse was observed on the ground (where they drop after a disturbance). This may be why the grey morph is not associated with specific food plants. The striped and colour polymorphisms in T. cristinae appear to be an evolutionary consequence of differential predation on different backgrounds. The implications of differential predation to food-plant utilization are discussed.