Host shifts and signal divergence: mating signals covary with host use in a complex of specialized plant-feeding insects




A combination of divergent natural and sexual selection is a powerful cause of speciation. This conjunction of evolutionary forces may often occur when divergence is initiated by ecological differences between populations because local adaptation to new resources can lead to changes in sexual selection. The hypothesis that differences in resource use contribute to the evolution of reproductive isolation by altering the nature of sexual selection predicts that: (1) differences in sexual traits, such as signals and preferences, are an important source of reproductive isolation between species using different resources; (2) there are identifiable sources of selection on sexual traits that differ between species using different resources; and (3) signals vary between populations using different resources to a larger extent than between populations using the same resource at different localities. Testing these predictions requires a group of closely-related species or populations that specialize on different resources and for which the traits involved in mate choice are known. The Enchenopa binotata species complex of treehoppers (Hemiptera: Membracidae) are host plant specialists in which speciation is associated with shifts to novel host plants. Mating in this complex is preceded by an exchange of vibrational signals transmitted through host plant stems, and the signal traits important for mate choice have been identified. In the E. binotata complex, previous work has supported the first two predictions: (1) signal differences between species are important in mate recognition and (2) host shifts can alter both the trait values favoured by sexual selection and the evolutionary response to that selection. In the present study, we tested the last prediction by conducting a large-scale study of mating signal variation within and between the 11 species in the complex. We find that differences in host use are strongly associated with differences in signal traits important for mate recognition. This result supports the hypothesis that hosts shifts have led to speciation in this group in part through their influence on divergence in mate communication systems. © 2010 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2010, 99, 60–72.