The role of competition in adaptive radiation: a field study on sequentially ovipositing host-specific seed predators


Dr Laurence Després. Fax: 33 4 76 51 42 79. E-mail:


  • 1We propose an alternative model to the host-shifting model of sympatric speciation in plant–insect systems. The role of competition in driving ecological adaptive radiation was evaluated in a seed predator exploiting a single host-plant species. Sympatric speciation may occur through disruptive selection on oviposition timing if this shift decreases competition among larvae feeding on seeds.
  • 2The globeflower fly Chiastocheta presents a unique case of adaptive radiation, with at least six sister species co-developing in fruits of Trollius europaeus. These species all feed on seeds, and differ in their oviposition timing, one species ovipositing in 1-day-old flowers (early species), while all the other species sequentially oviposit throughout the flower life span (late species). We evaluated the impact of conspecific and heterospecific larvae on larval installation success, and on larval fresh mass and area, for early and late species, in natural conditions.
  • 3None of the three larval traits measured was correlated with fruit size, and no fruit lost all seeds to predation, suggesting that seed availability was not a limiting factor for larval development.
  • 4Our results show strong intraspecific competition among early larvae for larval installation, and among late larvae for larval mass. By contrast, larval competition between species was weak. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that shifts in oviposition promoted rapid radiation in globeflower flies by lowering competition among larvae.