1. The importance of host-race formation to herbivorous insect diversity depends on the likelihood that successful populations can be established on a new plant host. A previously unexplored ecological aid to success on a novel host is better nutritional quality. The role of nutrition was examined in the shift of the stem-boring beetle Mordellistena convicta to fly-induced galls on goldenrod and the establishment there of a genetically distinct gall host race.
2. First, larvae of the host race inhabiting stems of Solidago gigantea were transplanted into stems and galls of greenhouse-grown S. gigantea plants. At the end of larval development, the mean mass of larvae transplanted to galls was significantly greater than the mass of larvae transplanted to stems, indicating a likely nutritional benefit during the shift. This advantage was slightly but significantly diminished when the gall-inducing fly feeding at the centre of the gall died early in the season. Additionally, there was a suggestion of a trade-off in the increased mortality of smaller beetle larvae transplanted into galls.
3. In a companion experiment, S. gigantea gall-race beetle larvae were likewise transplanted to S. gigantea stems and galls. Besides the expected greater mass in galls, the larvae also exhibited adaptations to the gall nutritional environment: larger inherent size, altered tunnelling behaviour, and no diminution of mass pursuant to gall-inducer mortality.
4. In a third line of inquiry, chemical analyses of field-collected S. gigantea plants revealed higher levels of mineral elements important to insect nutrition in galls as compared with stems.