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Nutrition as a facilitator of host-race formation: the shift of a stem-boring beetle to a gall host

Authors

  • CATHERINE P. BLAIR,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Biology, Bucknell University, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.
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  • RITA V. SCHLANGER,

    1. Department of Biology, Bucknell University, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.
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    • *

      Current address: Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine of Case Western Reserve University, 9500 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44195, U.S.A.

  • SARAH E. DIAMOND,

    1. Department of Biology, Bucknell University, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.
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    • Current address: Department of Biology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC 27599, U.S.A.

  • WARREN G. ABRAHAMSON

    1. Department of Biology, Bucknell University, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.
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Catherine P. Blair, Department of Biology, Bucknell University, Lewisburg, PA 17837, U.S.A. E-mail: cblair@bucknell.edu

Abstract

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.

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